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02 Dec 21. UK announces new Special Envoy to the Western Balkans. Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach has been appointed Special Envoy to the Western Balkans. The Prime Minister has appointed a Special Envoy to the Western Balkans as part of the UK’s ongoing commitment to stability and prosperity in the region. Sir Stuart Peach will take on the role after stepping down as Chairman of the NATO Military Committee earlier this year, a role he held since 2018. He also formerly served as the UK Chief of the Defence Staff. As the PM’s Special Envoy, Sir Stuart will work with Western Balkans leaders, others across the region and our allies in the US and Europe to support and strengthen regional stability. His work will also involve promoting strong democratic institutions and open societies, helping to tackle serious and organised crime and other joint security challenges, and encouraging resolution of legacy issues such as War Crimes and Missing Persons. Linked to the latter, the UK will also continue to lead work to advance gender equality and implement the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sir Stuart’s work will support that of the international High Representative, Christian Schmidt, who continues to have the full support of the UK. On Serbia and Kosovo, he will work with our partners in support of the EU-facilitated Serbia-Kosovo Dialogue.
The High Representative has warned that Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently facing the greatest existential threat in its post-war period, and that there is a real prospect of further division and conflict. Along with international partners, the UK is working to tackle any threats to stability in line with the Dayton Peace Agreement which has underpinned 26 years of hard-won progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The UK is also helping to address other regional challenges, including supporting the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and combatting organised crime groups. The UK will play an important role, working closely with the governments of the region and its international partners.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The UK is deeply committed to European security. The Western Balkans are experiencing the biggest threat to their stability and security in over two decades. We have a responsibility to do all we can to preserve the gains achieved through peace and dialogue – we cannot allow any return to the violence and division of the past. Sir Stuart’s extensive experience and expertise will reinforce international efforts to protect peace and promote Euro-Atlantic integration in this crucial region.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “Sir Stuart’s appointment is a clear demonstration of Britain’s commitment to the Western Balkans and to the defence and promotion of freedom and democracy in the region. I look forward to deepening our economic and security ties with the Western Balkans and working together to deter malign actors. Sir Stuart will play a key role in that work.”
The political situation in the Western Balkans was discussed at the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Riga, and will be on the agenda at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Liverpool, which was announced earlier this week.
The countries in the Western Balkans are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. Sir Stuart will also work with wider regional stakeholders including neighbouring countries and relevant international organisations. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
30 Nov 21. Crashed UK F-35B wreckage found but not yet recovered, MPs told. A UK F-35B crashed shortly after takeoff from HMS Queen Elizabeth earlier this month. The wreckage of a British F-35B stealth jet that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea earlier this month has been located by experts, but not yet recovered from the ocean, the UK’s National Security Adviser understands. Speaking to the Commons Defence Select Committee, Sir Stephen Lovegrove said: “Clearly the swift recovery of the aircraft is what we would like to do, and we are working closely with allies on the mechanics of that, but I can’t go into too much detail about it for reasons of operational security.
“We haven’t got the plane up yet; an investigation is certainly ongoing into the incident.”
The former Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence added: “My understanding is that the experts know where the aircraft is.”
A joint UK-US operation was launched to retrieve the wreck.
The Lightning jet’s pilot, who safely ejected from their aircraft, was able to return to the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier.
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) says it is “aware” of a video shared online, which appears to show the moment the aircraft crashed.
Sir Stephen told MPs it would be “premature of me to comment on what the reasons for the accident are”.
He added: “The recovery of the flight data recorder and the wreckage are really vital for an accurate investigation to determine the causes of the crash.”
When asked about whether he was concerned about the potential for Russian forces to be in the area and also looking for the wreckage, Sir Stephen replied: “We are aware of Russian undersea capabilities.
“The kinds of precautions and operations that we are undertaking at the moment are designed at least in part to ensure that the technology of the F-35 remains as confidential as you would like it to be.
“Those security aspects are very much at the top of our mind.” (Source: forces.net)
BATTLESPACE Comment: Unconfirmed sources point to the fact that the ground crew omitted to remove the rain cover on the windshield which was then sucked into the engine which explains the loss of power on takeoff.
30 Nov 21. Airbus: Eurodrone project ready for takeoff – as soon as the contract is signed. Industry officials are ready to move ahead to build the Eurodrone, Europe’s premier unmanned aerial system program, but the formal contract first needs one more signature. A deal could be signed in the next “couple of months,” once all four partner nations have completed their review processes, said Daniela Lohwasser, chief Eurodrone engineer for Airbus Defence and Space, during a virtual media briefing on Tuesday.
“We have the green light from Germany, from Italy and from France, and we are in the waiting phase, basically every day now, on Spain,” Lohwasser said. Once Madrid is officially on board, “it will take maybe a couple of months more until we will be ready to finally go for the full contract signatures,” she added.
The industry partners — which include Airbus representing Germany and Spain, along with France’s Dassault Aviation and Italy’s Leonardo — are ready to sign the contract “from our side,” she noted. Airbus officials previously expected the contract to be signed in early 2021. Once the ink has dried, the industry partners face a tight schedule, with a preliminary design review expected to take place 18 months later, and a first flight within the following five years, Lohwasser added.
But that’s not the only big contract still pending. Airbus has yet to select an engine supplier for the Eurodrone program, and is weighing proposals from two vendors to build up to 120 propulsion systems, she said. “We are working on the finalization of the last offers. … The plan is that right after contract signature, we will announce the engine bidder, but not before.”
Lohwasser confirmed that the Eurodrone will have two engines, noting that while the up-front cost will be higher with the twin engine, there will be less maintenance required, and thus lower lifecycle costs. “We are seeing more and more unmanned vehicles with twin engines. … I would say this is going to become the new market normal,” she said.
The Eurodrone program is expected to create over 7,000 jobs across its partner nations. In Spain and Germany, Airbus plans to employ over 1,000 new workers specifically for the project, Lohwasser said.
The medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) drone includes key partners Germany, France, Spain, and Italy, but Airbus expects more nations to join after a formal contract is signed. The four current partners have ordered 20 systems — which each include two ground stations and three aircraft — to ensure non-stop operation with one drone in the air, one in maintenance, and one ready to take off at all times, per Lohwasser. Germany has opted for seven systems, while Italy has committed to five, and Spain and France will each buy four systems.
Airbus Germany serves as the prime contractor and is in charge of the flight management and air-space integration system, along with the landing gear and the ground control stations. Meanwhile, Airbus Spain is designing and producing the fuselage and empennage systems, the ground safety critical control system, the safety-related and tactical communication assets, and the engine and fuel systems.
Dassault Aviation is in charge of developing the safe flight and landing system, mission communication, the air central maintenance system and the ground and mobile central maintenance systems. Last, Leonardo will design and produce the wing, as well as the airborne electrical and environmental control system, the airborne mission system, and the airborne armament system.
Final assembly will take place in Manching, Germany, Airbus announced last year.
While the program and engine contracts have yet to be formalized, Airbus has moved quickly to develop early designs. Eurodrone is expected to be over 52 feet long, and nearly 20 feet high with a 98-foot wingspan — about the size of an A320 airliner, Lohwasser noted.
The larger footprint will enable more flexibility for nations to choose which sensors to put on the platform, she added. Each system will include five stations to support weapons packages, additional fuel tanks, or other capabilities as befits the individual country’s needs.
“Whatever they will choose, the weapon systems are not part of this development,” Lohwasser said. “What we are doing is … building provisions so that if later on, somebody wants to deploy something, it is possible.”
Eurodrone is also to be designed for civil air integration to allow for a wide range of missions. “We don’t have to go for detours to ensure that we reach this and that emergency location,” Lohwasser said. “Because of the high reliability and robustness, we can do direct flight path planning — this saves fuel and at the end, even CO2 emissions.”
30 Nov 21. Two European fighter jet programmes are too many – AlixPartners. Europe cannot afford to fund two fighter jet programmes, AlixPartners said on Tuesday, adding that the defence sector would go through a consolidation process as groups scramble to boost their exposure to electronics and cybersecurity. At a time when European Union members are discussing closer cooperation on defence, they are split on the development of common defence projects including a new military jet. Britain and Italy are working to build the Tempest fighter with a view to replacing their Eurofighter Typhoon jets from 2040, while France, Germany and Spain are working on the rival Future Combat System (FCAS) project to replace France’s Rafale and German and Spanish Eurofighters.
Last week, Italy’s Air Force Chief of Staff said he expected Tempest and FCAS to merge in the medium term.
“If a new fighter is developed, two options are too many,” Paolo Rinaldini, managing director for AlixPartners in Italy, said during the presentation of the consultancy firm’s forecasts for the defence and the aero sectors.
AlixPartners monitors trends in the global economy and publishes regular forecasts on defence and aerospace groups.
Rinaldini said that big defence groups were all looking for acquisitions and partnerships to strengthen their position in defence electronics and cybersecurity, two areas where they see higher future growth.
As an example, the consultant mentioned the decision of Italian defence group Leonardo (LDOF.MI) to buy a 25% stake in Germany’s sensor maker Hensoldt (HAGG.DE).
AlixPartners expects defence spending of European NATO countries to continue to stay below of a target of 2% of their gross domestic product in the next five years after touching a peak of 1.76% last year. (Source: Reuters)
30 Nov 21. British MI6 spy chief warns: the race is on for mastery of AI. The chief of Britain’s foreign spy service warned on Tuesday that the West’s adversaries such as China and Russia were racing to master artificial intelligence in a way which could revolutionise geopolitics over the next decade. The world’s spies, from Langley and London to Moscow and Beijing, are trying to grapple with seismic advances in technology that are challenging traditional human-led spying operations which dominated for thousands of years.
Richard Moore, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, said quantum engineering, engineered biology, vast troves of data and advances in computer power posed a threat that needed to be addressed by the West.
“Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage,” Moore, who rarely surfaces for speeches, will say on Tuesday.
Moore, a former diplomat who became MI6 chief in 2020, said technological progress over the next decade could outstrip all tech progress over the past century.
“As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics. But it is a white-hot focus for MI6,” he said.
Of particular concern to the West’s spies are Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies which have rushed to harness the power of a range of sophisticated technologies, sometimes at a faster pace than in the West.
Western intelligence agencies fear Beijing could within decades dominate all of the key emerging technologies, particularly artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics.
China’s economic and military rise over the past 40 years is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union which ended the Cold War.
MI6, depicted by novelists as the employer of some of the most memorable fictional spies from John le Carré’s George Smiley to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, operates overseas and is tasked with defending Britain and its interests.
Moore said the service would have to change to harness new technologies.
“We cannot hope to replicate the global tech industry, so we must tap into it,” he will say. “We must become more open, to stay secret.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Reuters)
30 Nov 21. Foreign Secretary warns a Russian incursion into Ukraine would be strategic mistake. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will underline the UK’s ongoing commitment to NATO as an essential defence, at her first meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers today.
- Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is attending her first meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers in Latvia this week
- The Foreign Secretary will use this opportunity to underline the importance of NATO, demonstrating the force of a ‘network of liberty’ against malign activity
- The meeting follows a visit by the Foreign Secretary to see UK troops deployed as part of NATO’s collective defence in Estonia
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will underline the UK’s ongoing commitment to the transatlantic Alliance as an essential defence, protecting democracy, security and prosperity, at her first meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers today.
Top of the Foreign Secretary’s agenda is the need for Allies to come together to stand against continued destabilising actions by Russia and Belarus. This follows the build-up of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine and the cruel instrumentalisation of migration by Belarus. Russia has also tried to use economic coercion to undermine NATO Allies in recent years, for example through seeking to exploit energy dependency.
The Foreign Secretary will call for Allies to rally together, to stand up to any Russian aggression while maintaining open channels of communication to set out our intentions and values. She will underline NATO’s purpose as an organisation for collective defence and deterrence, calling out recent false claims by Russia that the Alliance seeks to provoke. Russia has previously used such claims that NATO aggression justified the illegal annexation of the Crimea and continues to take this position to try to create a false pretext. Indeed Russia has just this week alleged that NATO’s response to a build-up of Russian forces on the border of Ukraine is an act of hostility rather than deterrence. She will underline that an incursion into Ukraine would be a strategic mistake, and the UK will use all diplomatic and economic levers at our disposal to avoid that outcome.
The Foreign Secretary will outline the need for NATO Allies to increase their financial commitments to the Alliance in response to these and other hybrid threats, and encourage countries to support Ukraine’s defences. The UK is helping Ukraine strengthen its military capabilities and ability to work with other forces, including through Operation Orbital, under which the UK has trained over 21,000 members of the Ukrainian army. Ukraine and Georgia will both attend the meeting this week in Riga as key NATO partners.
Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss said: “We want a world where freedom and democracy don’t just survive, they thrive. To this end, we will stand with our fellow democracies against Russia’s malign activity. We will support Ukraine and stability in the Western Balkans, to safeguard their security and build their economic resilience. We have seen this playbook from the Kremlin before when Russia falsely claimed its illegal annexation of Crimea was a response to NATO aggression. NATO is an alliance forged on the principle of defence, not provocation. Any suggestion that NATO is provoking the Russians is clearly false.”
Any action by Russia to undermine the freedom and democracy that our partners enjoy would be a strategic mistake.
Ahead of the meeting, the Foreign Secretary visited Estonia to show her support to UK troops protecting NATO territorial integrity on NATO’s Eastern flank. More than 800 British soldiers are currently stationed there as part of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence, with collective forces across Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Looking ahead to NATO’s new Strategic Concept, Foreign Ministers will discuss new and emerging forms of hybrid warfare, and the need to continue work to future-proof the Alliance against these threats. Allies will also discuss continued work to prevent Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for terror.
This follows the publication of the Integrated Review earlier this year, which brought together diplomacy, development and defence to strengthen the UK’s ability to build a global network of liberty and protect against malign actors. This was supported by the biggest investment in our defence for thirty years and a reinvigorated, expanded diplomatic network.
After Estonia and Latvia, the Foreign Secretary will be travelling to Stockholm for the Annual OSCE Ministerial Council. The meeting will bring together the OSCE’s 57 participating states, most represented by their Foreign Ministers, and will be a forum for further discussion of issues critical to the security of the region, including human rights violations in Belarus and the situation in Ukraine.(Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
30 Nov 21. British F-35 crashed into sea after failing to take off, leaked video reveals. Footage shows £100m fighter accelerating up ramp of HMS Queen Elizabeth only for pilot to eject at the moment it reaches the top. An F-35 that crashed into the Mediterranean never managed to take off, footage has revealed. The leaked video shows the £100m fighter jet accelerating up the ramp of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s flight deck, only for the pilot to eject as it reaches the top.
Even though the jet went straight into the water from the ship, authorities have not yet been able to locate the aircraft because it would have travelled through the water for some distance.
Howard Wheeldon, an aerospace and defence analyst, told The Telegraph: “There is a saying in the military ‘lift is a gift, thrust is a must’, and I’m afraid clearly he had no thrust.
“It is a short take off, but they need that ramp to assist them and clearly the pilot has insufficient power to get him into the air properly.”
Well thank God he is still with us! That’s all I can say. pic.twitter.com/YtL6f0BFAm — Seb H (@sebh1981) November 29, 2021
Mr Wheeldon added that the footage showed “the canopy shot off the jet, allowing the pilot to eject and the next thing you see is him coming into the water”.
An investigation is ongoing to determine the cause of the crash, while the aircraft has still not been located.
Despite the fact that it landed near the carrier, some have suggested a plane will “fly” underwater in a similar way to being in the air, meaning that the jet would have travelled a significant distance after crashing.
Given that the aircraft went down in about 1.24 miles of water, it is likely the search area on the sea bed will be a circle of about four miles in diameter. Royal Navy ships are remaining in the area to deter anyone else trying to recover the jet.
However, defence sources said while the jet would have a locator device on board, the military would not want to activate this amid concerns it could alert rivals to its precise location.
Senior Tory MPs have urged the military to speed up the recovery of the aircraft, warning that while it remained on the seabed the UK was vulnerable to adversaries such as Russia and China.
Investigators are concerned that a rain cover was sucked into the jet’s engine which resulted in the aircraft crashing into the sea.
It recently emerged that Russia had been playing “close attention” to the incident as the aircraft is considered the most complex and secretive that the UK has. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
29 Nov 21. Norwegian Defence Budget and F-35 Costings. In the aftermath of the Swiss decision to select the F-35A for its Air 2030 programme, when challenged, the F-35 lobby tried to brush away queries about the bizarre decision, stating that Bern based its decision (as had Belgium) on “real World data”, as opposed to “something that you might have seen on the internet somewhere”. Which, of course, is interesting, as the only data that either country had serious access to was that provided by Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon, hardly impartial sources. But if one wants “real World data” on the F-35, the A-model in this case, then why not consider that unreliable “internet source”, the Norwegian defence budget?
For if one cannot take, at face value, what one of the World’s foremost liberal democracies puts into its budget submission, then democracy is heading towards Hell in a hand basket!
The Raw Data
The 2022 Norwegian defence budget has the following cash figures for the F-35A programme:
— Procurement of fighters + equipment: NOK90.23bn ($10.68bn)
— Implementation/Administration costs: NOK3.8bn ($450m)
— Base infrastructure costs: NOK8.32bn ($1.05bn)
Now, how does one add this up? Were you LM/Joint Project Office, you’d direct attention to “just” the procurement figure, but then stripping out things such as weapons etc, saying that these are not parts of the “cost” of an F-35.
But Defence Analysis would state that if something is required to allow a system, any system, to be used correctly, then this has to be included in the cost of that system, in this case, the F-35A. To quote the budget document:
“…procure a total of 52 combat aircraft with the necessary additional equipment and services, including weapons.”
It is pretty clear from this that the weapons are an integral part of the programme, and that it is pointless to consider the capability of the aircraft and the weapons separately. Basically, weapons are as integral to the F-35A as specialist ground support equipment, such as unique trolley A/Cs, or the ALIS/ODIN support systems. In which case, one can look at the procurement costs for Norway of the F-35A as being Point 1 on its own, Points 1+2, or Points 1+2+3/
Right, this is pretty stark: on what grounds can anyone from the F-35 Fan Club state that these Unit Price Costs (as opposed to the LM preferred metric, “Cost of Production”, which equates to “Unit Production Cost”, which is simply the cost of manufacturing an aircraft, with no costs for other essential equipments) that Norway’s data is wrong?
Just consider: the lowest UPC, that of “just” the procurement of aircraft/essential equipment is three times the stated cost of production, and the highest figure is 3½ times the low-ball figure.
— The Swiss UPC is pretty much devoid of weapons, as are the UAE’s and Belgium’s sales notes [Ed: so, try explaining why one is $50m per aircraft higher than another? It isn’t “just” support, as sales notes don’t cover, say, 10-years of support, only initial support].
— It is well worth noting that the average UPCs from these deals is $200m, which sort of “proves” that the Norwegian “low” figure is an accurate one – is pretty much slap on that for Poland, and only a few million dollars above the Belgian figure. But all are a long way off from, “the $80m F-35” promised by Lockheed.
— This data truly shows the difference between the pretty arbitrary, meaningless “Cost of Production” figure, showing the reality of buying the F-35 (and, to be honest, any complex weapons system): to get an operationally-useable aircraft, there are many, many extra tens of millions of Dollars that have to be spent.
What also comes clear from this chart is that one might query the UPCs for both Switzerland and Finland (as stated by the DSCA sales notes):
* Was the Swiss sale done at an artificially low price, but that there are a significant number of “hidden extras” that will arise as negotiations proceed?
* To keep the export drive for F-35 going, was LM allowed to offer an artificially low price [Ed: it is illegal to offer at the same or lower price to a customer, a product provided to the DoD] to offset for lower/slower US orders?
* Is the same true for Finland? That there has been a realisation that the F-35 faces some serious competition in Finland, so an artificially low price has to be offered?
Finland HX Programme
The Norwegian defence budget data, coupled with the other DSCA sales notes, raises an interesting question: is a €10bn procurement budget (weapons and infrastructure included) be enough to buy the desired 64 aircraft? Consider the following:
— Basically, if the Norwegian data has validity – and as seen above, there is data convergence with other air forces – then there is zero chance that a €10bn procurement budget (including weapons, infrastructure – see below re the latter) will buy 64 F-35As.
Defence Analysis hears more rumours that only the F-35A, and possibly Gripen E can meet the target of 64 aircraft.
— Even the low-end Norwegian cost (excluding infrastructure etc) is the shy end of $2bn higher than the stated HX budget.
— At Norwegian costs, €10bn/$11bn would buy 48-53-aircraft, at best.
— As an extra aside, the current approvals for the 48 F-35Bs stand at £9.132bn (€11/$12.55bn). Yes, the F-35B is more expensive than an F-35A – but it isn’t meant to be this much dearer!
Joint Strike Missile Integration
The Norwegian 2022 defence budget mentions two phases for JSM/F-35 integration:
— Phase 1: NOK1.328bn ($158m)
— Phase 2: NOK5.780bn ($690m)
TOTAL: NOK7.327bn ($870m)
So what? Well, Defence Analysis will revert back to the costs of integrating UK weapons onto the F-35 (although the F-35B’s bomb bays are smaller than those of the F-35A, bringing extra, and more expensive engineering costs):
— UK contract cost of Meteor integration: £75-80m
— June 2021 contract announced by Lockheed Martin: $472m (£340m)
The LM contract is for the physical integration of Meteor BVRAAM and SPEAR 3 into/onto the F-35B, as well as an Italian-specific guided bomb, so the majority of the costs would refer to the UK weapons.
On the assumption that, say, $350-400m is for the long-range UK weapons, it would seem to be justifiable to Defence Analysis’s eyes to query why the JSM integration – which won’t be an internal fit, but on an external pylon – seems to be costing so much. Is it because, like with Meteor – Kongsberg is having to create an F-35-specific version of JSM?
To put it mildly, there are few “good” explanations as to why the JSM/F-35 integration costs seem to be so high.
There is a budget line item for F-35 upgrades: NOK6.487bn ($770m).
Now, it is unlikely to refer to historic work, such as possibly upgrading Norwegian F-35As to the basic Block 3 standard, and it cannot refer to far-future upgrades such as any Block 5, 6 etc – these are simply unknown, so you cannot even begin to budget for them.
The figure is far more likely to refer to the known Block 4 upgrade that will start to be embodied by c.2025-26.
Dividing $770m by 52 aircraft (assuming no new-builds are delivered in the Block 4 standard) produces a Block 4 UPC of $15m. This looks quite light, when comparing with other Block 4 data.
F-35 Base Costs
A very ignored cost. After all, if you have to spend $Xm to make an airbase capable of operating the F-35 (or any aircraft), then isn’t this a legitimate cost to add into the procurement figure? OK, you pays your money and takes your choice…
The Norway 2022 defence budget has a figure of NOK8.318bn ($1.05bn) for F-35-specific base infrastructure. The Main Operating Base is at Ørland, with a Forward Operating Base at Evenes in N Norway.
From a different part of the budget, the relevant cost breakdown produces:
— Ørland: NOK6.673bn ($790m)
— Evenes: NOK1.747bn ($210m)
So what? Well, with noting that whereas Ørland has all the vital supporting infrastructure to maintain/support the entire fleet, Evenes is a bare base for forward operations.
And to take this hard data a degree further, one can start to see what a generic F-35 MOB costs:
— Pretty simple to see that the base cost of an F-35 MOB is $600m.
— Although the cost of RAF Marham’s upgrade can partly be attributed to the core infrastructure being old, the same is far from true of RAF Lakenheath or Ørland.
— Infrastructure cost is included in the Finnish €10bn procurement budget. If this data is solid [Ed: it is], then the actual available budget for procurement has just been cut by €750m+. And as seen in the analysis of UPCs, that would mean that Finland could only afford a maximum of 50 F-35As.
— The data for Evenes is important, as Finland, too, wants a set of satellite bases to make the system more resilient. If the wish for four such bases were to be met, then this would cost close to $1bn extra.
While the procurement of the F-35A is costing Norway some NOK90bn, complete/global costs for everything are NOK326bn ($38.75bn) for 52 aircraft. Deducting the first number from the second, and one gets the lifetime operations costs at NOK226bn ($27bn).
Now, the budget says that the programme started, for Norway, in 2012, and will run to 2054. But the Norwegian Air Force only received aircraft by c.2018, so proper operational costs would only have started to be incurred around then. This means that the F-35A will see 37-years of service [Ed: it could go on, but Defence Analysis will use what is in black-and-white]. So,
— 52 aircraft procured.
— 37-years of service.
— $27bn through-life operations costs.
=>$19.5m per aircraft per year operations cost.
This is substantially higher than target of $4m per F-35A set by the US DoD, and also than the 2019 actual annual cost per F-35A of $7.1m. And as the data is given in 2021 prices, future years’ costs will be inflated.
Defence Analysis puts this in to show that Norway doesn’t seem to be buying into the $25,000 cost per flight hour. At best, Oslo seems to believe that an F-35A – the cheapest of the three variants – costs at least double that.
But what does the real-World Norwegian data say about the recent Swiss data, as well as what is being postulated in Finland?
— To repeat: the Norway budget is based on an air force that now has 30 F-35As, and has been flying them for 4-5-years. This is not the case for either Switzerland, let alone Finland.
— The Swiss operating budget for 30-years is at least $4bn lower than that based on the Norwegian costs.
— The current Finnish HX operations budget is nearly four times smaller than what would be the case for a 64-aircraft fleet if Norway’s F-35A operations costs are taken as the baseline.
— As seen above, there are a number of reasons why Switzerland’s UPC is far lower than pretty much everyone else’s: will Bern be getting a shock once it starts to see what real-World F-35 operations/support costs are?
— But it has to be said that the Swiss F-35A operations costs are far more realistic than those put forward by Finland – and the Swiss data is based on 36 aircraft, while Finland desires 64, and will likely settle for 60.
— Finland’s operations/support costs for a 64-aircraft fleet over 30-years, if the Swiss costs are applied, would be three times higher than budgeted for.
— Worth noting that one thing that Switzerland has “accepted” is that its air force might need to fly fewer hours, and operate more on simulators, keeping costs low. So, on that basis, how come its operating costs are still substantially higher than the Finnish HX budget?
A €10bn ($11.6bn) 30-year operating budget seems to be completely unrealistic for Finland’s HX programme if the F-35A is selected. Real World data from Norway shows, categorically, that a far higher budget will be needed.
Flight Training costs
To consider, further, the issue of training/flying, Defence Analysis would note another comment from the Norwegian 2022 defence budget:
“In the spring of 2021, three Norwegian F-35 aircraft were transferred to the training base at Luke Air Force Base (Luke AFB) in the USA. This was done in order to train a sufficient number of Norwegian F-35 pilots. A total of ten Norwegian aircraft are now part of the multinational partnership’s training base at Luke AFB.”
— This means that now, 10 out of 31 RNorAF F-35As are based in the USA – a third!
— And note that this is to provide a sufficient number of pilots, suggesting that there is something “difficult” about producing pilots (and other crew?).
— As it is going to be more expensive to train in the USA, why do this? Is it because the F-35 is just so noisy, that the RNorAF feels that it is better to do this Stateside?
— By-the-way, the RNorAF has eight simulators, so this would seem to be about double what the UK has, but still has to undertake more live flying to train.
— And to recap something mentioned above, Switzerland was convinced that the F-35’s simulation was so advanced, that there was less need to do live flying, as it could be done virtually. Swell, Norway seems to show that this is not the case!
Ratio of Acquisition – Operations costs
An extra issue to consider, as regards the Norwegian budget data, and then the Finnish HX programme:
— Norway ratio of operations to procurement costs: 2.5:1
— Finland ratio of operations to procurement costs: 1:1
So what? Well, it is a well-known rule of thumb (and backed up by real world data), that support/operations costs of complex equipment are always higher than the procurement cost, and figures of 2-4:1 are normal.
The Norwegian defence budget data falls right into the basket with its ratio – but the Finnish requirement seems to be pretty unrealistic on the basis of historical evidence.
So why has the HX programme got what would seem to be a completely provable low figure, one unlikely to be attained?
Defence Analysis might – just might – apologise for this deep data dive. Well, possibly – but no. What this data shows is that a lot of figures for F-35 costs are hardly based on reality.
For those who might doubt what Defence Analysis has derived here, a simple question has to be asked: why has the Norwegian MoD put these budget figures to their Parliament, if they are not based on realities on the ground? And why would a Parliament connive in using figures which could be audited and shown to be false?
To recall: the RNorAF is flying the F-35, which is not the case with either the Belgian or Swiss Air Forces. So, whose data/figures would you trust?
What the 2022 defence budget shows is that the F-35 has serious costs, is far from being as easy to operate as an F-16, and has astronomical operating costs.
And, bearing in mind that the US Air Force is free to admit that the F-35A costs about double what it had planned for, how do you get from the RNorAF’s $19.5m per aircraft per year to even the current $7m experienced by the USAF? It’s not a few percentage points off – it’s an order of magnitude off!
Defence Analysis also does not apologise for bringing Finland’s HX programme into the equation, as the Norwegian data ought to be a hard baseline for Helsinki to base its procurement on.
As the two countries seem to have similar budget systems, one has to work hard to explain why Norway’s F-35 data is not of great relevance to Finland.
Source: defense-aerospace.com EDITOR’S NOTE: This analysis of the cost of F-35 procurement compares the real-world figures contained in the Norwegian Ministry of Defence’s budget, as submitted to, and approved by, the Storting, Norway’s parliament.
The author, who is also the editor of the noted Defence Analysis newsletter, then compares Norway’s real-world costs to those officially presented by Swiss defense minister Viola Amherd, and approved by the Swiss Cabinet, and those submitted by Lockheed Martin in its bid for Finland’s HX fighter competition.
As described below, the discrepancies are very significant, to the point of casting serious doubts on the validity of the Swiss and Finnish cost estimates.
Coincidentally, the Swiss defense procurement agency, Armasuisse, yesterday released a new breakdown of its F-35 procurement cost, showing that it had increased by nearly 20% between June 30, when they stood at 5.098bn Swiss francs, and Nov. 26, by when they had increased to 6.035bn francs. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Defence Analysis; posted Nov. 29, 2021)
29 Nov 21. Swiss F-35 Program Costs Increase by 20% in Nine Months. Swiss Ministry of Defense graphic detailing its planning assumptions for F-35 procurement (left) and the actual contractual figures (right) it released on Nov. 26. Both are much higher than the CHF 5.068bn cost it claimed in June. The cost of the 36 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters that Switzerland has decided to buy has increased by almost 20% in the nine months since the decision was announced in February, according to figures released Nov. 26 by the Swiss ministry of defense. From 5.068bn Swiss francs (CHF) in February, revealed in a June 30 defense ministry statement, the cost of the F-35s has now increased to CHF 6.035bn. No explanation was provided for this CHF 967m increase, but the implication is that it is due to “inflation forecasts up to 2031 and anticipated payments.”
Costs increase for aircraft but not missiles
However, no similar escalation is reported for the Patriot ground-based air defense system that Switzerland is buying in parallel. Its cost was stated as CHF 1.97bn in February, “including inflation and VAT up to the time of payment,” rising only marginally to CHF 1.987bn as announced on Nov. 26.
For both the aircraft and missiles, the ministry says it used the same exchange rate of CHF 0.95 to the US dollar, so the implication is clearly that the F-35 cost increase is due to other, specific but unnamed factors.
Cheap, cheaper or cheapest?
The 20% increase in cost over the past nine months also calls into question the defense ministry’s claim in February that the F-35A will cost “around CHF 2bn less than the second-lowest bidder,” which it did not identify.
That difference has now been halved to “around” CHF 1bn, making the F-35 that much less attractive compared to its competitors.
Furthermore, it should be noted that, to date, the costs put forward by the Swiss only cover procurement and “support from the manufacturer during the rollout” phase. No financial data is provided regarding the aircraft’s future 30-year operating costs, other than to say they will take the total F-35 program costs (i.e. procurement plus operating costs) to approximately CHF 15.5bon over 30 years.
Imbroglio over operating costs
This implies that Switzerland believes its total operating costs will amount to CHF 9.4bn over 30 years, or CHF 315.5m per year and CHF 8.76m per aircraft per year.
But Norway, based on its experience with the F-35 over several years, has concluded it will spend $27bn to operate its fleet of 52 F-35As for 37 years, which works out to $19.5m (or CHF 18.5m) per aircraft per year – well over twice what Switzerland has estimated.
In fact, using the same ‘real-world’ costs being paid by Norway, buying and operating 36 F-35s for 30 years will cost Switzerland CHF21bn, instead of the CHF 16.85bn claimed by the Swiss defense ministry.
Hurdles remain before contract signature
The Swiss government’s decision to buy the F-35, and its claims that the US aircraft offers the best performance, the lowest costs and the best protection of sovereign data of all the bidders, have raised the hackles of a wide range of domestic opponents.
The most predictable, and the most dangerous for the government, is the “Stop F-35” initiative launched August 31 by the Group for Switzerland Without An Army (GSsA) with the support of the Socialist and Green parties, to block the F-35 purchase.
The Socialist and Green parties have 83 seats out of the Swiss Parliament’s 246 seats, or about one-third. Incidentally, the GSsA estimates that the F-35 program would cost Switzerland CHF 25bn – almost 60% more than the government estimate.
Under Swiss law, 100,000 signatures are enough to force a referendum. On Nov. 28, according to a counter on the GSsA website, “61,258 people had downloaded the petition’s signature page,” and the total had increased to 61,282 by Nov. 29.
Lucas Bürgi, the GSsA’s political secretary, said during a Nov. 29 telephone interview that the goal of 100,000 signatures could be reached by March, in which case the popular vote could be organized by late 2022 or early 2023 at the earliest. The government could conceivably sign the contracts before the petition deadline, or even before the popular vote, Bürgi said, but this is unlikely because it is aware that the petition is in motion.
In a similar referendum held in September 2017, and also sponsored by GSsA, the principle of the procurement of a new combat aircraft was approved by a paper-thin majority of 51% — or just 8,000 votes — and many think it probable that, based on cost factors only, the F-35 buy would be blocked if another referendum is held.
Furthermore, because of Swiss constitutional procedures, a referendum could not be held before 2023, or over two years after Lockheed’s bid was submitted, and so probably requiring further renegotiations to update the contract terms.
Parliament launches audit of F-35 purchase plans
The left-wing Socialist – Green opposition is not alone in having concerns about the government’s planned F-35 purchase.
The Business Audit Committee of the Swiss National Council (Parliament) announced Nov. 16 that it would audit “selected aspects of the evaluation process for the new fighter aircraft” of the Swiss Armed Forces “with regard to their legality and appropriateness,” adding that the relevant subcommittee will begin work in February 2022. The commission is chaired by National Councilor Erich von Siebenthal, a member of the conservative UDC party, which controls 36 seats in Parliament.
The committee said it wants to create transparency with regard to certain points of criticism that were raised in public, “in particular be to assess the methodology used when evaluating the aircraft available for selection, to investigate the allegation of the destruction of files by Armasuisse, to clarify the consideration of any political leeway in relation to the country of manufacture and to check compliance with other legal procurement principles.” (Source: defense-aerospace.com)
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