Aerospace Extinction, Part 2

The number of US companies with the know-how to build combat aircraft will shrink again due to “budgetary limitations and recapitalization decisions” now being made. So says the Defense Department in its recently released annual industrial capabilities report to Congress. “Over the next five to 10 years, most current military aircraft production programs will end, precipitating the need for a new round of consolidation in order to reduce infrastructure costs,” reads the document. The last time this happened, the number of fixed-wing combat aircraft houses in the industry shrank from nine (Boeing, Fairchild, General Dynamics, Grumman, Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop, Rockwell, and Vought/LTV) to three (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman). The result was diminished competition, and a must-win corporate culture that helped derail the CSAR-X rescue helicopter and KC-X tanker programs via endless legal protests. According to the report, the further shrinkage of companies and programs for them to work on mean the “potential decline or loss of engineering and manufacturing skills unique to combat aircraft development.” Also threatening the domestic combat aircraft industry is “the increased costs associated with strategic metals and energy driven by increased global demand, which translates directly to budgetary increases for both aircraft procurement and operations,” states the report. (Full report; caution large file)