How often have we had discussions about various aircraft (and occasionally ships) that involved the question of reopening production lines? Invariably, someone makes the claim that reopening a production line would be more expensive than a new design. That’s ridiculous for a variety of reasons but no one has actual data or facts to prove or disprove the contention. One common proposal and point of debate is the F-22. Given the cost and questionable performance and usefulness of the F-35, it has been proposed that we simply reopen the F-22 production line. Along the same line, people have proposed a navalized F-22 but the idea gets shot down by the contention that reopening the line would be cost prohibitive.
ComNavOps hates debating points that have no supporting data. Well, I stumbled across a data point for the F-22 production line courtesy of a Reuter’s article (1).
“… the Air Force has taken steps that leave open an option to restart the premier plane's production relatively cheaply.”
“The Air Force is preserving the hardware used to build the jet, not scrapping it … “
“A total of more than 30,000 jigs, fixtures and other "tooling" used to build the plane are being logged into a database and tucked into containers, some custom built, for long-term storage at Sierra Army Depot,
.” Herlong, California
“Lockheed is under Air Force contract also to preserve the shop-floor know-how used to manufacture the fighter. It is accomplishing this through a video library of "smart books," DVDs designed to capture such things as how to hold a tool for best results.”
Now, here’s the ultimate point.
“Bringing back the F-22 line would take less than $200 million, "a fraction of the costs seen in previous line restarts of other weapons systems," Alison Orne, a Lockheed spokeswoman, said by email, citing preliminary analysis.”
So, for the cost of a one or two aircraft, the F-22 production line could be reopened. That should answer a lot of questions. Even if the aircraft were altered, say for a navalized version, the vast majority of tooling would still be applicable and available.
No matter what you do to the restart cost estimate (double it, triple it, whatever), it remains a cheap option.
As an interesting and related side note, the article mentions a few other production lines that have been reopened but does not offer any costs.
“Arms production lines have shut in the past only to be brought back, including aircraft such as the submarine-hunting P-3, U-2 spy plane and B-1A bomber resurrected as the B-1B.”
Of course, this represents the best case scenario where the production tooling is carefully preserved along with the production knowledge. This doesn’t apply to most other programs although companies generally do crate and retain tooling against future need. So, reopening the Perry FFG production line, for example, might cost significantly more but probably less than the cost of a single ship (there I go, offering an opinion with no supporting data – I hate that!).
The point is that options involving restarting F-22 production are viable and financially attractive. So, go ahead and offer up your favorite F-22 restart scenario and know that it is feasible.
to mothball gear to build top F-22 fighter”, Jim
Wolf, U.S. 12-Dec-2011,