B-3, KC-X, F-35 ... Bingo! By Rich Smith (TMF Ditty) September 18, 2009
The best defense is a good offense First and foremost, let's lay to rest the rumors that Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II fighter jet -- which promises to become the world's first trillion-dollar warplane -- will have its lifespan cut short. Flying model airplanes are fun and all, but I've yet to see the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can take down a MiG one on one. For that, you're going to need an F-35.
Luckily, Secretary Gates has got your six. Speaking at the conference earlier this week, he stated his intention to have the first training squadron of F-35s airborne by 2011, followed by aggressively rolling out the program to the Marines and Air Force in 2012 and 2013. At last report, the Pentagon planned to buy 2,443 F-35s for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. Foreign partner nations are expected to buy another 500 or so -- and the opportunities could be even greater than that.
Whatever our allies' intentions, though, Gates confirmed his commitment to the F-35 as "a major leadership priority, with all that entails with regard to funding, oversight and accountability." Admittedly, the statement leaves a lot to the imagination. But one thing I cannot imagine is that we'll see an abrupt cutback in the program. Not after the Pentagon gets done clipping the F-22 Raptor's wings. Not until UAVs grow up.
The long march
The Lightning's prospects may be electrifying, but it wasn't the only plane making headlines Wednesday. That honor goes to the "B-3 bomber" (not its real name, or not yet). As you may recall, Gates has hemmed and hawed a bit in the past on whether the U.S. really needs the B-3. Developing a replacement for Northrop Grumman's (NYSE: NOC) famed B-2 bomber is expected to cost upwards of $15 billion.
Whether it will be Northrop building the plane remains up in the air. Boeing (NYSE: BA) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) have already said they intend to buddy up and build a better mousetrap once the Air Force begins taking bids to replace the B-2
The decision to revamp the missile system in Eastern Europe came from Gates, who now believes the main threat is from Iran with short and medium raange missiles (against Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Saudi, etc). In addition, it became apparent to him that this long range system, in its current form, only works marginally, and is extremely expensive. Practically it makes no sense.
This is a major plus for LMT, who will become dominate in all areas of defense that flies for many, many years. Also, we now may be able to enlist Russia as a semi-ally, since they wish to join the EU, and needs the USA as a friend more than Iran to develop their economy.