Hopeful Signs

The F-35 strike fighter might actually meet its optimistic targets for life cycle costs, or at least far surpass those of previous stealth aircraft, defense analyst Barry Watts said Wednesday. “I’m still bullish about the F-35,” he said during the F-35 panel discussion sponsored by AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies in Arlington, Va. Watts said Lockheed Martin seems to have solved the nettlesome problem of low-observable materials maintainability. The F-117, B-2, and even early F-22s presented heavy challenges in this area, requiring excruciatingly careful applications of radar-absorbent materials demanding many man-hours. However, he said, “apparently … you can beat on [the F-35] with a ball peen hammer” and not dramatically affect stealth signatures. Similarly, the F-35 is the first fighter designed at the outset with an open avionics architecture to allow for easy upgrade of computer processor chips. (See Maybe This Time below)