Wednesday, July 22, 2015

F-22 Production Line Restart Costs

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.


(1)Reuters, “U.S. to mothball gear to build top F-22 fighter”, Jim Wolf, 12-Dec-2011,



52 comments:

  1. Seems like a good interim solution to the F-35 debacle: cancel the F-35, by F/A-18s and F-22s, and get back to redesigning a replacement for the F-35.

    GAB

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    1. Ben, respectfully, please.

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    2. I agree that a reasonable interim solution would be to terminate the F-35, purchase the Advanced Super Hornet for the Navy, reopen the F-22 line for the AF, and work on a new aircraft suited for the Pacific Pivot and combat with Russia. The key, as I've stated repeatedly, is to keep the requirements realistic and relevant to our military strategic and operational needs. We can pursue magic helmets, lasers, adaptive engines, invisibility, and whatever else as research projects.

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    3. Sorry Gab, I didn't really mean it like that.

      I familiar with your writing and opinions, I thought you were honestly being funny.

      Plus of course the lack of F35 is going to leave Italy right up the perverbial creek ?

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    4. Hi BO,

      I am dead serious.

      The F-35 is a pig - nothing will change that. Worse, the costs are dangerously approaching that of the F-22.

      Offer our allies the option to buy the F-22 and or F/A-18.

      Ugly, but the only realistic option.

      GAB

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    6. Smitty, check tomorrow's post!

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    7. Smitty,

      STOVL is a niche: the absolute first order of business for any air force is to sweep the skies of enemy aircraft - no STOVL aircraft has proven to be competitive with, let alone advantaged over conventional fighters.

      Herein lies the issue, the last capability that you want to give up is the A2A mission - STOVL does not trump that.

      The f-35 is too costly to buy in the numbers needed, its A2A capabilities are an open question, as are the A2G capabilities. O&M costs and mission capable rate are all unknowns (and open questions too).

      It makes a great deal more sense to buy existing capabilities with aircraft we know how to operate (F-22 and F/A-18), than to spend a lot of money on a program that has consistently failed to met performance specifications, and is fiscally unsound.

      I would trade off STOVL, and even A2G capability in order to gain air superiority.

      GAB

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    1. "... coupling restart costs with development of a navalized variant would be much more expensive."

      Smitty, you're doing exactly what I said I deplored in the post (and yet often do myself !) and that is make statements that are unsupported by data. Would a navalized variant be MUCH more expensive? It might be but, equally, it might not be. I know of no direct comparison data point for a land aircraft having been navalized. The F-4 Phantom comes to mind but I think the navalizing had been largely built into the original design?

      As you well know, navalizing involves corrosion control modifications (materials selection and some sealing that might not otherwise be done), beefed up undercarriage, a Navy refueling system (probe), possibly some electromagnetic interference "hardening", and the like. None of that strikes me as hugely expensive and it is all well understood technology.

      A more likely statement is that a navalized variant would be somewhat more expensive - my guess is 10% or so depending on the state of the baseline F-22. 90% of the airframe and components would be unchanged, I'm guessing. Again, take the example of the Phantom. What percentage of the aircraft was common between AF and Navy versions?

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    3. You're asking whether the Navy could screw up a navalized F-22? Of course they could. Almost certainly they would. My musings are based on a well run program as defined by me.

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    5. Smitty, the technology to navalize an aircraft is well established and should be simple and relatively cheap. On the other hand, to argue against myself, the technology (primitive as it is!) of the tailhook has been well understood for decades and yet the F-35 failed to get it right. So, my contention is suspect!

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    7. Huh? If you need a beefy landing gear to develop a naval aircraft, then you need the same beefy landing gear to adapt an aircraft.

      I may be missing your point. If so, try me again.

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  3. I'd do it in a heart beat. I think if the flyaway cost of the F-22 can be brought even close to that of the F-35 its a better value.

    Of course... there will be additional costs in there:

    A) update avionics.
    B) Likely reskin it with more modern stealth coatings
    C) I'm guessing we'd get soaked by lockheed for F-35 cancellation fees. What was the ultimate cost of canelling the A-12?

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    1. Jim,

      The Navy received three EA-18 Growlers from Boeing, and $200M shipbuilding credit from General Dynamics as a result of the A-12 settlement. That value represents a government recoupment of approximately 1/3 of the $1.3B spent on the program.

      V/R TA

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    2. * What about cancellation penalties? Didn't we pay any there.
      * Would we pay any with the Lockheed F-35 contract?

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    3. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-1298.pdf
      http://www.supremecourt.gov/qp/09-01302qp.pdf

      The Court of Federal Claims awarded GD and Boeing $1.2B finding that the government had terminated the contract out of convenience and hadn't shared it's "superior knowledge" about stealth. The Federal Circuit reversed the CFC's decision; ultimately the Supreme Court heard the case.

      The various contractors for the A-12 were allowed to keep about $900M of the already executed funds without ever delivering a product. The government recouped $400M in goods and services.

      LM has produced and delivered over 100 F-35s to the DAF and DoN. I'm neither a lawyer nor an acquisition professional, so I have no idea how the contracts would be sorted out - but, probably not well for the government.

      V/R TA

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    4. TA,

      Bring in the FBI, seize all of the files, and sort out culpability starting with past/present program managers and key members of the PO.

      If negligent, sue them, if guilty of criminal acts, then jail them.

      The acquisition side of DOD is a monster; nothing fruitful can be done without sending a nuclear blast through the program managers of major weapon systems across the services, and absolutely crushing the defense industry.

      The entire system is a national disgrace, and the nation is facing unsustainable debt. The only question is the choice between triage now, or national default later.

      GAB

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  4. One more thing... the Reuters article was from '11. How long was Lockheed contracted to keep that stuff going?

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    1. The article implied for the life of the F-22, whatever that is.

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  5. Of course the lines could be reopened.

    It's of strategic significance in time of war.

    I think most countries on the winning side of WW2 remember the issues in a drawn out war of attrition, and we arn't going to fall for that one again !

    200m is pretty cheap. Will take a while mind you. But I dare say the contract specified it has to come operational within a year or so.

    I think the problem is the cost of the aircraft, the cost of running the aircraft and its inability to do anything other than air superiority ( to a high degree ).

    Anyway there is your line restart fantacy, a global peer war featuring heavy A-A losses , desperate enough that money is no object and enough duration to reactivate the contract clause. ( i.e. not nuclear )

    This fun isn't as fun as we were at first thinking.

    :(

    Beno

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    1. I'd make the argument that the F-22 is more versatile than the F-35; and hence a better investment.

      Your cost of maintanance is an excellent point. But I don't think its much (if at all) better with the F-35.

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    2. Jim you nailed it.

      GAB

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  6. The F22 is a special case, because a lot of care was taken to preserve the "know how"

    The UK tried to re-wing some aircraft and after spending nearly $5bn gave up.
    Because engineers who werent born when the plane started to fly struggled to understand what the original engineers had done, which was mostly bodge it.

    "Cheaper to design a new aircraft" isnt *as* wrong as it sounds and if not handled carefully, can be significantly more costly.

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    1. TrT, you appropriately remind us that any program, if not handled carefully, will become quite costly.

      Timely and appropriate. Thanks!

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  7. This brings up another question.... one thing I've always wondered about but never been able to find any information on:

    What did it cost, what was the difference in (projected) price when they navalized the first Hornet?

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  8. comnav , even starting the F22 line again, dont you think the avionics of F22 already behind the curve ? look at the F35 ? even it's avionics already overtaken by modern implements .. and F22's avionic is way older than F35's ..

    it is not enough to restart F22 line, but also to revamp their avionics to current standard

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    1. The real question you need to ask is not the avionics or sensors but how long can the F-35 remain on station to provide important Close Air Support and how many bombs did it drop?

      The F-35 carries substantially less fuel and internal ordnance in stealth mode that the A-10 or even the F-16. While it could carry more on it's exernal wings, that totally negates the stealth benefits. The A-10 can remain overhead for hours and 1,170 rounds of 30 mm and over 16,000 lbs of ordnance, the F-16 while less rounds of ammo at 511, still can carry 17,000 lbs of ordnance.

      The F-35A carries 180 rounds of ammo and 4,700 lbs of ordnance internally in stealth configuration. The F-35B and C carries no internal rounds in stealth and 220 rounds in an external pod but would be no longer as stealthy. The F-35B carries just 2,700lbs of ordnance internally.

      The Legacy A-10 and F-16 carries the latest varient of the LITENING II and ROVER pods that allows it to receive and send data to soldiers on the ground. The F-35's ETOS sensor is now a decade behind the LITENING II sensors and two decades behind when it finally comes online compared to the pod sensors that have be upgraded continously over the past decade and does not have ROVER capabilities allowing it to send data down to the ground. Soldiers have said the ROVER is a game-changing capability that allows the pilot to send what they see from the plane directly to the soldier on the ground.

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    2. Relatively normal OIF loadout for an A-10 was 4 x GBU-12 and a Maverick. Hardly 16,000lbs.

      Aircraft never carry their spec sheet capacity.

      A common CAS loadout for the the F-35A will be 8xSDBI/II, 2xAMRAAM, 180 rnds 25mm, stealthy. You can bet they will carry external ordinance if the threat is tolerable.

      Comparable to the common A-10 loadout.

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    3. One important difference is the F-35 runs out of gun ammo after a few seconds. Besides, the situation on the ground might preclude dropping a bomb, even one as small as a SBD.

      I'll take an A-10 or F-15E over a F-35A any day of the week.
      The F-15E can fly farther and loiter longer than the F-35A.

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    4. That is not CAS, CAS is CLOSE AIR SUPPORT, you are not going to lob 250IB bombs near infantry, the AOE (area of effect) is too large, and the margin for error on those bombs is too great. For CAS you need cannon/rocket fire (and a slow stall speed), or at most maybe small precision missiles (like hellfire, which have a small charge)...

      Even a 30mm HE round has a wound/kill radius of several metres. I would not want to be anywhere near a F35 providing 'CAS'.... Probably a greater chance it would kill me, than the enemies it is 'helping me against'.....

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    5. Smithy, do you believe that the AF will take precious F-35 aircraft and pilots and give them the specialized and dedicated training that is what actually makes for an effective CAS unit?

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    7. "Relatively normal OIF loadout for an A-10 was 4 x GBU-12 and a Maverick. Hardly 16,000lbs."

      Smitty, that's for a very low intensity operation. If it were high end combat, the A-10 would carry more. We may as well compare the F-35 payload to the A-10 when configured for airshows - hey, the A-10 doesn't carry anything so the F-35 must be superior!

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    8. Smitty, if you are dropping large bombs on enemy units, then your infantry is not going to be anywhere nearbye, for the simple fact that the AOE is too large, you could kill them, even a 250IB bomb is probably getting too large.

      Sure some people may term it CAS if you are dropping 1000IB bombs on a village somewhere, and you have infantry a few kilometers away, but that is really just interdiction.... Wouldn't want to be anywhere near 'close' to that...

      I think the US doesn't really practice CAS anymore, rather they prefer interdiction tactics, where their infantry are at a stand-off range, their have however been examples of engagements, in which actual CAS from A10s have really helped us infantry... And another thing I would like to point out, those SDBs are not cheap, I know they probably shouldn't cost too much, but they cost a lot of money... On the other hand, you can get an awefully large number of rounds for the A10s cannon, for the same price...

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    10. Smitty, you're missing the point. The A-10 can greatly increase its loadout, if needed. The F-35 can't. Also, the A-10 carriers 1200 rds of 30 mm depleted uranium shells.

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  9. The costs we would need to discuss are much larger:

    - Restart production (probably the easiest step because they did try hard to keep the know how when the F-22 cutback was made)
    - Modernize avionics
    - It is probably worth modifying the design to add an IRST (could license PIRATE from Europe)

    And if you want carrier operations, you'll need to R&D a variant for that.

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  10. I think main requirements for naval version is different wing geomatries to assist take-off and landings, modified front landing gear (for CATapults) and the tail-hook, if it can be done without substantial redesigns it shouldn't be too hard... FYI F22 originally had IRST requirement, was dropped due to cost reasons, integrating it back in shouldn't be too hard..


    But it's LM they are a crap company, they will milk any restart as much as the f35...

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    2. Yes the wing geometry could very well be a large change, I think adding the tailhook would require a bit of work too, still you see proposals and actual modifications that have done similar things, i.e. the Super Hornet and the F2 KAI all have undergone structural changes particularly to the wings.

      The F22 had a proposed F22B variant, there are many planes which have been entered into competitions to be fielded on carriers, under the basis of being modified to be compatible.

      As for the 'high-lift device'. I am not sure what you mean, are you refering to a giant fan that creates lift or something?

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  11. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for air superiority! It is mandatory for victory. We learned that the hard way in WWII. There are not enough F-22s to achieve this in an American/NATO vs Russia/China conflict.

    The original F-22 number planned was far more than we got. Why? Because we needed the full number for a worst case conflict. Let's make a second batch with a modestly updated F-22B; and, don't through out the F-35 just yet. Maybe slow it down for a time.

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