When Lockheed Martin Won The JSF Award (2001)


During its nearly 100 years of coverage, Aviation Week & Space Technology has covered many controversial programs. Perhaps none has been as big in terms of sheer value and global reach as the nine-nation, stealthy F-35 fighter project.

In its Oct. 29, 2001, cover story, Aviation Week’s esteemed Pentagon team (and my predecessors), Robert Wall and Dave Fulghum highlight the weight of Lockheed Martin’s dominance as a result of the winner-take-all program. At the time, the question was whether the losing team led by Boeing would get a piece of what was then described as a $200 billion project.

Aviation Week delayed printing of the magazine to ensure we got the story in. And, we dummied up two covers – one for Boeing and one for Lockheed.

In the first of many pieces to come about what was then called the Joint Strike Fighter development contract, Wall and Fulghum have a couple of famous words in quotes from the Lockheed F-35 manager at the time, Tom Burbage. The $19 billion development contract would proceed under a “very aggressive schedule,” he said. This is perhaps the understatement of the decade – or two. Now, the kindest of onlookers say the schedule was unrealistic. Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall has said signing the deal was “acquisition malpractice.”

This schedule called for F-35A and F-35B fielding for the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps in 2008 with the U.S. Navy and its F-35C following in 2010. The Marines are now shooting for initial operational capability this summer – seven years later than planned. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh is adamant that his service will declare IOC by Decemer 2016, eight years later. And, the U.S. Navy – which has been lukewarm at best on the project as it continues to push for more F/A-18E/F’s from Boeing – is eyeing IOC by February 2019, nine years off plan.

Fast forward nearly 13.5 years to today, and the program’s cost is estimated to have doubled to $400 billion. And, the single-engine, stealthy fighter has yet to leave U.S. soil for its international debut.

The development program has more than doubled in cost from the $19 billion figure cited when Lockheed Martin won the contract.

From an industry angle, the ramifications of the decision are still being felt, and more will come. Boeing hasn’t a speck of work on the jet, and the company is fighting hard to keep its F-15 and F/A-18E/F lines in St. Louis open. At the time, Boeing Chairman Phil Condit cited other work – such as robust interest in the C-17 cargo carrier -- as key for the company’s future military business. But, that line in Long Beach, California, is in the process of shutting down and with little work beyond the next couple of years for its fighter business in Saint Louis, the shape of this impact on the losing bidder has yet to fully be felt.

At the time, Pentagon officials planned for an “alternate” engine approach – developing propulsion systems from both Pratt & Whitney and General Electric that could be interchangeable on the jet. This was to ensure that a propulsion program couldn’t ground the preponderance of the fighter fleet operated by the U.S. and its top eight allies. As the aircraft’s cost spiked, interest in a second engine tanked. It came down to funding, but the Pentagon abandoned plans for the GE F136 and today Pratt & Whitney’s F135 enjoys the position as the sole power plant for what could prove to be the largest military program in history.

Likewise, Northrop Grumman clinched work on the F-35 radar, a cousin to the radar used on the stealthy F-22, also built by Lockheed Martin. This left Raytheon with its focus on legacy products, including the F-15 and F/A-18E/F. However, Raytheon’s large-face radar business has thrived with success in the AN/TPY-2 missile defense system and the next-generation air and missile defense sensor on Navy Aegis ships.

The selection of Lockheed was hardly a surprise. General officers in the Air Force were not too shy about their distaste for Boeing’s design. One two-star famously declared the Boeing option just too ugly to be in the Air Force fleet. And, the company struggled to match the performance of the lift-fan feature used by Lockheed Martin for the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing Harrier replacement requirement. 

Today, the program is largely considered too big to fail. Along with the nine partner nations, Lockheed has buy in from Japan, Israel and South Korea. And, the jet isn’t even operational. Yet, it has also become the poster child for how not to craft a program because of its unrealistic cost and requirements expectations, which set it up for more than a decade of missed milestones.

Under the leadership, however, of USAF Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan – notorious for his unedited candor, which makes contractors quake in their boots – many onlookers think the project is on the best trajectory it has had. Be sure in 50 years log onto our web site – or whatever medium we are using – to see whether this recent optimism turned into reality.

► Read the October 29, 2001 cover story: Lockheed Martin Strikes Out Boeing

► Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history, including viewpoints from the industry's most iconic names and stories that have helped change the shape of the industry.

Discuss this Blog Entry 20

on Jan 23, 2015

The F-35 is a classic case of an over complex,over priced, let's do everything for everybody, system. The whole project has been overtaken by advances in technology. We should now be putting our efforts into smart weapons which can be launched some distance from the target from a fleet of low cost platforms.Stealth is a "busted flush" as it is not based on magic but the laws of physics and the bad guys of the future are just as good at physics as we are. As I have said in past posts, the F-35 is the most expensive method of knocking down a $10 mud hut ever devised by the military mind. Did the Pentagon not learn anything from the F-111?

on Jan 23, 2015

Mr.Burbage was right: the JSF schedule was indeed “very aggressive", but against US taxpayers more than anyone else!

on Jan 23, 2015

The program is largely considered too big to fail?

Size is not relevant to failure. The JSF program has already failed, so cancel it as written here.

on Jan 23, 2015

I was there a few months after the contract award. I had a copy of a high level SDD schedule pinned on my cube wall. Every day I looked at tht schedule and shook my head because there was just no way we could have met it.

It was like the old saying of how you boil a frog. You don't just crank up the heat all at once. You gradually turn it up so it doesn't know what's happening.

That was how it was on the program. The schedule wasn't blown from the start. It gradually fell apart over time. If LM told the government in the beginning that it would take 7-9 years longer than the original contract said, they would have cancelled it and moved on.

Of course there probably wasn't a soul out there who could have predicted it would stretch that far.

But if you're LM or Boeing....do you just not bid on the contract if you think you can't make the schedule? Of course you bid! Your shareholders demand that you do whatever you can to bring in the dollars. Just ask for forgiveness later.

on Jan 24, 2015

Lunch Meat (Baloney is our first name) asked for 'forgiveness' from the beginning of the X-plane effort when they 'lost' (accounting error) some 30 million dollars.

(Time Index 43:20)

LM has a history of screwing over their customers with maintenance and capability shortfalls that goes back to the MASSIVE frauds of the F-104 competition which literally bought out Europe's defense establishment while maintaining total maintenance and upgrade control over a program which the USAF refused to buy into, even after three other manufacturers (Alenia, Fokker, Canadair and Mitsubishi) were essentially building the jet themselves.


I remember Aviation Week providing no coverage of any of this.

Nor was their ever much mention of the highly competitive DARPA UDS/UOS program to produce a SEAD capable constellation jammer/weasel platform using the MMTD weapon we now know as Small Diameter Bomb. This was also a critical shortfall because the F-35 represents more of an F-117 followon than an F-16 one and the F-117 was itself hopelessly flawed by it's design point for munitions delivery which required direct overflight to laydown GBU-10/27.

Such would never work, even at -35dbsm, on an S-300 or later air defense system but nobody did the math by which it should have been INCREDIBLY CLEAR that, once the main radar defense systems were down, paying the 5-7,000lb weight as cost and maintainability penalties for VLO simply wasn't worth it because (as Desert Storm and later Allied Force showed), once you were out of Medium SAMs and Fighter Intercept, the enemy could bomb over the trashfire as easily as they had in the Falklands, _with PGM/IAM accuracy_.

Aviation Week did little or nothing to warn their readers that the F-35 was being built around a fraudulent assumption that the F-22 was 'too expensive' because Aviation Week did not advertise the single F-22 that Lockheed Marietta was allowed to build from funds saved by leaning up of the production line (From 250 per year to 30+) which created a one-off purchase quantity of 117 million dollars for that single jet in 2003.

Aviation Week also did not go to the experts in the field like the Fighter Mafia or Winslow Wheeler or even me. Who could have told them (Chuck Meyers) "JAST was the Joint Advanced Strike Technologies effort, not the Joint Air Strike Technologies." equivalent. At a time when Tomahawks were at last beginning to replace the crude TERCOM/DSMCAC 'flashbulb and photocell' approach to analogue navigation with digital equivalents and so price was coming down at the same time our theater of operations interests were shifting towards a PG region at least 3 times as large as the Central European equivalent. This was something even Bill Sweetman himself hit on in his _Stealth_ and _ATF_ books.

Mr. Wheeler would have told them that the entire program was jeopardized by a _sequential not concurrent_ development schedule as cheapness on LM's part in refusing to pay for the much larger engineering staff and/or license out the development of the other variants to Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Coupled to the Marine insistence upon a working STOVL model rather than a decoupled 'if you can' technology effort, this did indeed compromise the F-35A and C which could have been in service by 2012.

While I have casually mentioned, more than once, that the X-35 was not a jet which was in ANY WAY representative of the production article because it had no weapons bays and thus was able to install auxilliary systems, landing gear and engine any old place rather than rationalize and flight test a configuration which included all mission and utilities systems. Such that any nonsense like a 'similar moldine' or 'pretty jet' meant /nothing/ when the airfame was 'more hole than whole' as a function of structural cutouts for STOVL and weapons bays landing gear outside the structural box and a centerline engine whose position had to be adjusted, twice, leaving _no longitudinal keel_ for support and a front end dangling off a single frame cut by the intakes with a further giant gaping hole, for a forward fuel tank or SDLF module behind it. That airframe is born to flex. And a busted engine proves it.

Dr. Carlo Kopp and I agree that the design is essentially non-stealthy from the 'shape, shape, shape and materials' sense that Denys Overholser first metric'd as driving the basics of VLO. The F-35 has a _conventional_ planform configuration with poorly shaped inlets for anything but a 30` VLO coverage notch centerd at X-Band and ZERO ability (as with the pure deltoid F-117 or the flying wing A-12/B-2) to minimize it's penetration = radars beyond the 10-2 line, bowtie signatures.

I take credit for stating that a jet with a 700nm combat radius which flew subsonically was going to have 10-12hr mission endurance which meant that simply having a lot of gas onboard was _NO GUARANTEE_ of survivability at depth because you could not use burner while that far across fence. Nor could you (as with the F-22) 'go fast before', tank and cross into indian country to slowly route-around threats rather than supercruise impale on the WEZ. Which means that you are delivering all of 2-8 bombs per day rather than the 16-24 which a genuine supercruise, all-sector VLO, airframe can generate.

To Pierre Sprey goes no little credit for describing the wingloading vs. ceiling and drag vs. airspeed limits on the X-35/F-35 configuration as a turn and burn EM machine.

To which I will add that if you can only generate two shots per day, your ability to 'under cost' the Cruise or Aeroballistic missile is _zero_ because the missile is a wooden round, riding about in a bomber bay or Mk.41 VLS cell for 90% of it's life whereas the fighter is worthless as soon as it's pilot loses their 20 hours per month, per mission specialty, which is the baseline of a 200+ hour a year pilot training requirement at anything up to 50,000 dollars per flight hour for the F-22 and 35,000 for the F-35.

ALL of this was obvious, to anyone with an ounce of historical awareness of past Lockheed misbehaviors. Or of the nature of tactical fighter design and employment in a post-Cold War world.

And Aviation Week did _very little_ to critique this airframe from the perspective of risks vs. non-manned alternatives. Just as they also deserve little credit for analyzing the political element. From a Congress that cancelled 1994 'technology demonstration' funding until the obviously F-16 inheritor production pork pie was properly split up among their states.

While the CRS/CBO and independent Think Tank analysis from the likes of Mike O'Hanlon, in the period 1997-2001, all began to put out cost projections and technical concurrency risk warnings, particularly on materials, which were entirely out of step with each other, with CAIV and with known force structure requirements. We were all talking 65-70 million and upwards, per plane, flyaway minus engine, at a time when SecAF Roche was saying-

Q: Can you give us an idea of what you consider the unit costs to be at this point, what you anticipate them being for each version?
Aldridge: The unit cost -- it varies with each variant. The STOVL version is more expensive than the carrier version. And the number I remember -- and, Jim, you might be able to help me -- I remember a number, but I'm not sure it's right.
Roche: We've been digesting lots and lots of paper.
Aldridge: And what fiscal year is also --
Roche: If the planes happened to be available today, we were buying them today, and we were to buy the CTOL [conventional take off and landing], the Air Force version, which, of course, was the most interest to me, then the number would be -- a fly-away cost -- in other words, if we go buy the airplane, would be roughly $40 million a copy.
Q: What's the unit acquisition cost, though?
Roche: It depends on what you're throwing into that.
Q: Well, everything. What's the taxpayer going to pay for your version?
Roche: Well, right now we're only going to pay for the SDD part of the program.


• The F-35 joint strike fighter, a good plane but an expensive one, would be scaled back by roughly half from its current intended buy of 2,500 airframes.


And while we were having our Wildnerness Years, AvLeak was not saying much.

Even this-

CAPITOL HILL: The Pentagon’s most expensive conventional weapon program emerged largely unscathed from perhaps its most intensive review before the crucial congressional subcommittee that controls military funding. As over budget and behind schedule as the $391 billion, 2,443-plane F-35 program has fallen since initial promises of a low-cost, multi-service Joint Strike Fighter, two high-powered panels of witnesses told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee that there was no alternative to the F-35.
It was an extraordinary lineup: The four-star chiefs of the Air Force and Navy; the four-star Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps; the three-star heads of the F-35 program; the Defense Department’s top tester and top acquisition official; the Government Accountability Office’s top acquisition expert; and a lone thinktanker, the Brooking Institution’s widely cited Michael O’Hanlon. But it was also telling just how lackluster attendance was on the part of the legislators who had convened all this starpower. Just six of the SAC-D’s 19 members bothered to show up, and one, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski (R), only wanted to question the Air Force Chief of Staff about plans to remove F-16s from her homestate’s Eileson Air Force Base. (The House Armed Services Committee has rejected measures to dial back the F-35 program as well).


As late as 2 years ago, which should have told EVERYONE that that JSF was as much pork barrel as defense driven, did not cause a massive editorial investigative policy shift by AW to begin the process of finally sorting the sheep and goats on this payola scandal.

Before Aviation Week gets too smug in jumping bandwagons to the 'new view' which is happy to crush the F-35 as the bloated pustule on the DOD's backside that it is, just remember, there were a lot of us who were already there when you were busy saying _nothing_.

And tens of billion$ with a B have been toilet flushed in the interim.

Right now, the big question is not who gets the credit but 'what next'. IMO, we cannot afford another 20 year development cycle. We do not need three airforces for one nation when JPALS/AAR (as differential GPS and active video Wii object tracking) allow for a COMMON not 'joint' solution. And at the same time, we cannot afford to wait 20+ years for a followon program to produce hardware because the one guarantee of modernity is that jets will age out faster than any 'downloadable app' level of Power PC electronics capability can provide a useful military leverage.

We also need to consider: APS/SSLs as both threat terminal munition defeat (cheap arrow defense for hardened structures vs. ballistic JDAM etc.) and eventually are defense against cruise and high altitude airframe killers. Hunting weapons (SAMs powered by high compression micro turbines and gifted with pack-think datalink search volumes). And the truth of system approaches like Hoplite and HSSW as high speed, remote fires, options that can go 150-300nm and 300-500nm in ten minutes as opposed to the hour+ it would take a Tomahawk or F-35 to get to the same distance. If costs of these weapons can be brought below two million each, the contrast between one squadron of F-35s (18 X 150 million = 2.7 billion) and _1,350_ missiles must be considered a driving factor. Because missile expenditures can be made good in a single year's manufacturing program. But if there is no war, the tens of thousands of flying hours that DOD expends as the world's largest POL burner are **Wasted**.

Finally, we need to reconsider high end Hypersonics like Falcon and the XTV program as the ability to create regional hyper sonic strike platforms (HSP for short) that can counter A2AD efforts by simply not having to break past them. The Chinese have DF-21D, Wu-14 and Dark Sword. They are going there regardless. And with the ability to deny airpower entry (DF-21D has a range of 900-1,100nm, the F-35A/C only a /radius/ of 584nm) by turning a carrier into a submarine comes the reality of acknowledging that our massive investment in a Midway, 1942, driven vision of 'Air Sea Battle' either has to be recapitalized outside of ROTHR+BASM engagement distances. Or abandoned and replaced by long range, landbased, HSPs that think nothing of flying 10,000nm in an hour.

Missile shift to submarine (VPM) and perhaps Arsenal Class deep strike capability is doable inside five years.

HSP is long term.

Gen-6 TacAir is somewhere inbetween.

Northrop Grumman was achieving 108KW, stable wavefront, lasing from their Gamma Firestrike SSL, five years ago.

"Pick any two..." as affordable capability step upgrades and realize you will be copied when you do.

Meanwhile, the 150 'handbuilt', non-standardized, F-35s which we are stuck with could form the basis of an F-117 replacement force, simply by acknowledging that the investment made is worth sustaining LM as a member of the Defense Aerospace Big Three. And justifying that investment with a small, high speed, followon ARM with two-channel homing and CUDA like dimensions as well as an average Mach-3 to impact speed leverage over the 300 knot GBU-39/53.

Half or more of what got us into this stupid business was the Sky Knight fraternity dominance of manned fighter solutions to all interdiction mission solutions as the refusal to consider alternatives.

Those very alternatives, which, in the A-45 J-UCAS, would have been a godsend in the 1,500nm radii conditions of Afghanistan and the 800nm of strikes from outside Hormuz, into Iraq, are now just passing fair in a condition dominated by Chinese stealth fighters and BASM as A2AD.

Keep that in mind when you consider the likelihood of a 'Near Peer' war with China in the period 2020-2025-2030. Because the farther right you go, the more likely you are to need a bigger tech boost injection than simply the obvious of Gen-6 as an FX followon to the TFX-35.

on May 6, 2016

I was just wondering what your problem was with LM? I have worked for LM and Boeing. The military/Gov. got snookered on the F-18E/F/G as they were 25-30% larger. It should have been re-bid, it was a remake of the F-17. Boeing had a major change in the F-32 and had to add a horizontal stabilizer. The AF stopped LM from putting the larger (CF-6) engines on the C-5B in the early 70's. The AF also added lots of extra requirements on the F-35 contract.

Cocidius (not verified)
on Jan 24, 2015


Thank you for the great personal historical perspective on the JSF.



on Jan 23, 2015

We've been had, big time, by the LM
present and future "used car" salesmen.
You know, the price does'nt include
fuel, rebuilt engine, license & title and
spare tire.

on Jan 23, 2015

Now that we have learned that China has hacked almost all of the critical data for this turkey LM can be thanked for giving it to them. One of our biggest military contractors with no network security? They should be prosecuted by the DOJ. On top of that most of the great items that were to be part of this system are now 20 years old and the entire project is turning out to be an obsolete and overpriced boondoggle. A new name for it should be the F 111/35.

on Jan 23, 2015

Indeed, the J-31 had to lit the afterburner just to do level flight due to the F-35's massive design drag during the Juhai show demo. So the J-31 is a useless turkey just like the F-35, because Chinese knocked off the wrong plane.

Cocidius (not verified)
on Jan 27, 2015


As much as they look similar the F-35 and the J-31 are completely different. The J-31 does not suffer the large drag inducing fuselage of the JSF because there is no need to accommodate a lift fan for a STOVL variant like the F-35B.

Also take a look at the tail fins, they're very much like the F-22 Raptor and optimized for dog fighting.

BTW - using afterburner/reheat in an air display routine is a normal practice used by most nations and aerospace firms when displaying their fighter aircraft.

on Jan 23, 2015

In case anyone didn't notice, the X-35 is a much slimmer and lighter aircraft that the F-35 is. This was made possible because the X-35 didn't have a weapons bay to demonstrate unlike its rival X-32.

This gave Lockheed a huge advantage over Boeing, because weight was critical in VTOL demonstration that decided the contest in Lockheed's favor. Of course when Lockheed actually tried to put a pair of weapons bays, the F-35 started gaining massive weight like a pregnant lady and the rest is history.

on Jan 23, 2015

I suspect the Pentagon nowadays is not that blind to the bad sides of the program. Expect a truncated production run and early retirement. After all, maintenance cost will get higher with time, from an allready high level. If Boeing were smart they should work on a F-35 successor to encourage this development.

on Jan 24, 2015

The "common airframe" route to economy red herring (and massive compromise) has actually been eclipsed by the failure to deliver working ancillaries. The F35 is a one ship generation gap.

Cocidius (not verified)
on Jan 24, 2015

What a perfect program to own as a corporation.

No matter how many times the F-35 goes off schedule, goes over budget, can't meet basic design metrics, and ultimately can deliver a go-to-war ready fighter, it simply doesn't matter.

The Pentagon will continue to buy hundreds of semi-functional prototype aircraft for hundreds of billions of dollars. Each one will have to be rebuilt and loaded with new software over and over again to meet some fictional IOC (far in the future), and each trip back for updates will cost more funding.

The JSF Program is simply the perfect money making scheme.

Testing - bah who needs stinking flight testing??

God I should have purchased some serious Lockmart stock a long time ago. I could have been rich for all the wrong reasons...

on Jan 26, 2015

it is a piece of junk and will not fulfill its first requirement.

on Jan 26, 2015

the oh-so freindly with teh lockheed SPO types, bought inot the worst possible design. and will not cancel the pig. witness the horilbe selection of teh C5 some 30 years ago, fed by LM sales people fequently, the worst of teh worst still handicaps our AF today.
the mcboein JSF was hampered by build to cheap philoshpy. the mcdonnel jsf ahd a lift engine, which teh AF was convined it did not want. but would led to a smaller, better all around design. not the ocmlex pig, the f35 is/was.

on Jan 26, 2015

what this program needs is one more series of tests. take a f16c, teh f35a or c, and line them up on parallel runways, and find out whichh one is onteh others tail first. then maybe a in air hea on head encounted. lm wont agress to these, probably not the af either.

on Jan 26, 2015

The Boeing offering lost on first sight as it looks like a whale shark.

on Sep 11, 2015

Bill Sweetman has already reported on the combat maneuverability comparison a couple months ago in this magazine; The F 35 turns out to be a super dog, rather than a dogfighter, particularly in comparison to the Viper . Comments that JSF is being acknowledged now as essentially an F 117 replacement are completely apropos. Ironically, the Navy version, which will have the biggest wing area, may be the most maneuverable of all three models… And the Navy still doesn't want it.
Our military acquisition system is broken – pure and simple – and this is the biggest example of that.

Please or Register to post comments.

What's From The Archives?

Aviation Week & Space Technology marked its centennial in 2016. Here, we highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history.

Blog Archive
Penton Corporate

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×