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Before the Cut: The Global Politics of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

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  • February 01, 2013
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd), AVSM, VM, VSM
    Discussants: Shri Gulshan Luthra and Shri Deba R Mohanty

    About Presentation:

    The paper, titled “Global Politics of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter”, analyses the ongoing debate on the issue of whether or not to continue with the programme. The author has studied the various political and economic dimensions of issue at hand, and highlighted the budgetary constrain and exponentially high cost of the project. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme, which many find lucrative, has drawn the interest of countries like Iran and Singapore. The fact is that due to budgetary constrain and rising defence labour costs, the US defence production was pushed towards international collaboration. This deal is often quoted as “Mother” of all defence deals. However, the author calls it a “Trillion Dollar Baby” citing the fact that deal has so far exceeded $1.45 trillion. He also tries to investigate as to the influence partners have had in the programme so far. The author’s study is based on data sources on defence acquisitions, in which he aims to analyse the politics of international arms production and arms transfer propaganda.

    One of the main arguments of the paper is that even though this is a joint programme and many countries especially UK are amongst its investors, the US has tried to dominate the programme. Synergies of cooperation are lacking, evident in the fact that US has not shared the source codes. The author notes that the schedule and cost overruns raise the question mark with reference to its affordability, lethality and stealth-ability in future endeavour. The author was pessimistic about the programme being a viable alternative due to massive costs involved; partner countries do not have the option of dragging their feet.

    The key points of the discussion and suggestions to the author:

    • It’s too early to discuss about F-35 in present scenario when only 30% of this programme has been accomplished until now. In addition, so far this aircraft has not demonstrated its ability and technological prowess as well.
    • F-35 programme will replace the three US aircraft carrier fleet and will be able to perform in all three areas of Army, Navy and Air force, but it will be producing more than 2000 aircraft, so the cost involved will be offset over the period of time.
    • If this aircraft is able to fulfil its goal in future, utility of the technology involved will override the considerations of politics and economics.
    • The comparative analysis of sophistication of the programme could have involved other fifth generation aircraft such as Indo-Russia FGFA, Chinese J-20 and the economic and technology hurdles that these programme confront.
    • If it is a niche product; if it is able to demonstrate its ability, affordability will not matter as countries like Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and South Korea could be probable customers.
    • The “Cost” has to be clearly defined as to what it involves such as future up- gradation, repair and spare parts and other such areas.
    • The perspective on international alliance model could have been clearly defined.
    • The US has invested huge capital in its critical time; hence sharing source code is not justifiable.

    Report prepared by Parveen Bharadwaj, Research Intern, IDSA.

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