Clipped wings

Arguably these should be the best of times for the defense industry in general, and for the manufacturers of military aircraft in particular.

The nation is engaged in a war against international terrorism where money is hardly an object. The first campaign in that struggle in Afghanistan highlighted the revolutionary military capability the United States has leveraged from its advantages in air power. A small group of U.S. Special Forces troops in Afghanistan used advanced technology to order precision strikes, routing Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

So why are U.S. defense industry officials and military service leaders so nervous?

Because a combination of factors has made significant cuts in aircraft programs and even cancellations a distinct possibility for first time in more than a decade. To drive that home, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered Pentagon planners in May to draft strategies for potential cuts to five of the military's most expensive weapons programs, including Lockheed Martin's F-22 fighter, Boeing-Textron's V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport and Boeing-United Technologies' Comanche helicopter.

While the conventional wisdom last year was that the military services and their congressional allies were poised to turn back major cuts to tactical aircraft programs, the war on terrorism has given Rumsfeld renewed clout, adding to his well-known determination to transform the military by focusing on leap-ahead technologies and eschewing some programs conceived during the Cold War. Anyone who didn't get that message was rudely awakened in May when Rumsfeld announced that he was killing the Army's $11 billion Crusader artillery system. And Rumsfeld has strongly indicated that the housecleaning has just begun.

The aircraft program most vulnerable to outright cancellation remains the Marine Corps' Osprey, a hybrid transport that can travel at the relatively high speeds and long distances of a propeller-driven aircraft, yet take off and land like a helicopter. The aircraft recently resumed flight testing after being grounded for more than a year because of a series of accidents and investigations into falsified maintenance records. While the Marine Corps still wants to purchase 360 Ospreys to replace its aging inventory of CH-46 and CH-53 helicopters, V-22 production is currently limited to the "minimum sustaining rate" necessary for continued flight testing and research.

The Pentagon has also launched a study of the Air Force's F-22 stealth fighter program, and many observers expect the program to face another round of cuts. Designed to replace the service's fleet of F-15 fighters, the F-22 program has already been cut six times since its inception in the mid-1980s, from 750 aircraft to a proposed 331, with each cut raising the per-unit cost of the aircraft. If design costs are included, the F-22s will now cost roughly $200 million a plane, making it by far the most expensive fighter in history.

Because it is the least mature of the tactical aircraft programs, the Joint Strike Fighter is likely to face similar cuts. Last year, Lockheed Martin defeated Boeing in a competition to produce the new fighter, which is intended replace existing aircraft in the arsenals of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Under current plans, the combined service purchases for the plane would total 2,852 aircraft at an estimated cost of $223 billion, making it the biggest aviation program ever.

That is, if the Joint Strike Fighter and its fellow tactical aircraft programs can survive the winds of transformation.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.