日期:2011-07-25 12:23


The defence industry

The last manned fighter

It is the most expensive military project ever. It is plagued by delays and menaced by budget cuts. Will the F-35 survive?

Jul 14th 2011 | from the print edition

LEON PANETTA is under no illusions about what Barack Obama moved him from the CIA to the Pentagon to do. The wily Mr Panetta, who took over from Robert Gates as defence secretary at the beginning of the month, is everyone’s idea of a safe pair of hands. But his greatest claim to fame (other than presiding over the plan to kill Osama bin Laden) is as the director of the Office of Management and Budget who paved the way to the balanced budget of 1998. Mr Panetta has inherited from his predecessor the outlines of a plan to reduce military spending by $400 billion by 2023. But America’s fiscal crisis (and the lack of any political consensus about how tackle it) makes it almost certain that Mr Panetta will have to cut further and faster than Mr Gates would have wished.


That could be bad news for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive military-industrial programme in history, and its lead contractor, Lockheed Martin. The plane is expected to come into service six years late (in 2016) and wildly over-budget. The Pentagon still plans to buy 2,443 F-35s over the next 25 years, at a cost of $382 billion. But in a parting shot, Mr Gates gave warning that although he did not think the F-35 faced cancellation, “the size of the buy” might have to be cut.

这对于F-35联合作战战斗机及其首席承包商Lockheed Martin来说可是个坏消息,F-35是历史上耗资最多的军工项目。F-35开始服役的时间预计比原计划推迟6年之久(到2016年),且已经严重超出预算。五角大楼仍准备在未来25年内购买2443架F-35战机,总价达到3820亿美元。然而盖茨在离任时警告说,虽然他认为购买F-35一事虽不至于彻底没戏,但“采购规模”也许不得不缩小。

After beating a Boeing design that was deemed technically riskier, Lockheed Martin signed the contract with the Department of Defence to develop the F-35 in 2001. It was an ambitious undertaking. The aim was to reap huge efficiency gains by replacing nearly all of America’s ageing tactical aircraft (the air force’s F-16s and A-10s; the navy’s A/F-18s and the marines’ AV8B jump jets) with three variants of one basic design. There would be a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) version for the air force, a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version for the marines and a beefier carrier version for the navy.

在击败了技术上风险较大的波音公司的设计方案后,Lockheed Martin在2001年与美国国防部签署了研发F-35的合同。这是一项野心勃勃的计划,其目标是用基于相同设计原理的三种版本的F-35取代美国所有已经老化的战术飞机(包括空军的F-16和A-10战斗机;海军的A/F-18战斗机及海军陆战队的AV8B喷气式飞机),从而大大提高作战效率。空军将配备以常规方式起降的战机版本(CTOL),海军陆战队将装备短距离起飞和垂直降落版战机,而海军配备的是加大型运输机版本。

With radar-beating stealth capability and a suite of advanced software and sensors, the F-35 would be a “fifth generation” fighter, far more effective in both its primary ground-attack role and air defence than “legacy” aircraft. (Respectively eight times and four times better, say Lockheed Martin executives, though by what measure is anyone’s guess.)

F-35具有躲避雷达跟踪的功能,并配有一套先进的软件和感应装置,它将成为“第五代战斗机”,无论是主要的地面打击能力还是空中防御能力,F-35的效率都要远高于“leagcy”战机。(据Lockheed Martin公司的管理层说,F-35在这两方面的性能分别提升了八倍和四倍,尽管大家都不清楚这个结论是基于什么标准得出的)。

Burning banknotes

Above all, the F-35 was meant to be affordable. Development costs would be shared across the three versions and with eight foreign partners who were also buying and helping to build the F-35. Manufacturing scale economies were assured because more than 3,000 planes were to be sold—2,443 to Uncle Sam and the rest to his NATO allies. And because 80% of the parts were common to all three versions, maintenance and logistics would be simpler and cheaper. Deliveries of operational aircraft were to begin in 2010.


That was the idea, anyway. The F-35’s critics have long argued that its performance is compromised by having to fulfil too many roles and that an over-complicated design lashed to an over-optimistic schedule was asking for trouble. In the past 18 months, as delays have mounted and costs escalated, even some of the plane’s ardent fans have become alarmed. In 2009 the Pentagon realised that a breach of the Nunn-McCurdy rules on over-budget defence-procurement programmes was inevitable, because costs would exceed the original baseline by more than 50%. An internal report declared: “Affordability is no longer embraced as a core pillar.”


Anticipating the breach, in March 2010 Mr Gates restated his support for the F-35, but hit out at “unacceptable delays and cost overruns”. He said he was “fundamentally restructuring” the programme, adding more money and time for development. He also withheld $614m in performance payments to Lockheed Martin, tying its future earnings to specific criteria rather than the subjective ones that he believed had stiffed the taxpayer.

眼看着预算被超出,盖茨虽然在2010年3月重申了他对F-35项目的支持,但却严厉抨击“项目进度延后,成本超支是不可接受的”。他说他要对项目进行彻底重组,向研发投入更多的资金,给予更宽裕的时限。同时,他拒绝向Lockheed Martin公司支付6.14亿美元的绩效款,今后将根据相应的具体标准向其付款,在盖茨看来,自吹自擂似的标准已经让纳税人花了不少冤枉钱。

In January this year Mr Gates made a series of further announcements which included spending another $4.6 billion on development, slowing down initial production to avoid building aircraft that would later have to be expensively upgraded and putting the marines’ STOVL version on two-year “probation” because of problems with the aircraft’s structure and propulsion system. Condemning the failure to get costs under control, which he blamed partly on the lack of financial discipline in the defence department during George Bush’s presidency and partly on execution failures by Lockheed Martin and its partners, Mr Gates said that “the culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of restraint”.

今年一月份,盖茨宣布将要采取一系列更加深入的措施,包括追加46亿美元的研发经费,放缓飞机初次投产的进度,以避免生产出来的飞机日后又要花大价钱来改造升级,并且将配备给海军陆战队的STOVL版战机推迟两年交付,因为飞机本身的构造和推进系统还存在问题。盖茨对成本失控极为不满,他认为一部分原因是布什任内的国防部松散的财政管理,另一部分原因是Lockheed Martin及其合作伙伴的碌碌无为。盖茨说“花钱无度的现象愈演愈烈,必须刹住这种风气,用节制消费的观念取而代之。

The latest cost estimates from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), published in May to coincide with a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the F-35 programme, were shocking. The average price of each plane in “then-year” dollars had risen from $69m in 2001 to $133m today. Adding in $56.4 billion of development costs, the price rises from $81m to $156m. The GAO report concluded that since 2007 development costs had risen by 26% and the timetable had slipped by five years. Mr Gates’s 2010 restructuring helped. But still, “after more than nine years in development and four in production, the JSF programme has not fully demonstrated that the aircraft design is stable, manufacturing processes are mature and the system is reliable”. Apart from the STOVL version’s problems, the biggest issue was integrating and testing the software that runs the aircraft’s electronics and sensors. At the hearing, Senator John McCain described it as “a train wreck” and accused Lockheed Martin of doing “an abysmal job”.

在参议院军事委员会举行关于F-35项目听证会的同时,联邦政府会计总署(GAO)发布了最新的成本评估报告,结果令人震惊。每架飞机的均价(按当时的标准)已经从2001年的6900万美元涨到了现在的1.33亿美元。如果将564亿美元的研发费用也算进去,飞机的造价就从8100万美元变为现在的1.56亿美元。GAO的报告显示,自2007年起,研发费用上升了26%,而时间也过去了五年之久。2010年盖茨的重组计划虽有所成效,但“在历经了九年多的研发,四年多的投产后,JSF项目仍未充分表现出飞机设计的稳定性,制造方法的成熟度和系统的可靠性。”除了STOVL版本存在的问题之外,最棘手的事情是整合及测试控制飞机电子设备和传感装置的软件。在听证会上,参议员John McCain把软件形容为“就像一辆破火车”,并指责Lockheed Marting公司干的“太差劲了”。

What horrified the senators most was not the cost of buying F-35s but the cost of operating and supporting them: $1 trillion over the plane’s lifetime. Mr McCain described that estimate as “jaw-dropping”. The Pentagon guesses that it will cost a third more to run the F-35 than the aircraft it is replacing. Ashton Carter, the defence-acquisition chief, calls this “unacceptable and unaffordable”, and vows to trim it. A sceptical Mr McCain says he wants the Pentagon to examine alternatives to the F-35, should Mr Carter not succeed.

让参议员们最担心的还不是购买F-35的费用,而是运行和维护他们的费用:在飞机的整个寿命里,各种费用会达到一万亿美元。McCain表示这个估算出来的数字“令人惊愕”。五角大楼猜测,使用F-35要比使用那些被其取代的飞机多出三分之一的开销。主管国防部采购事宜的Ashton Carter称这是“无法接受而且负担不起的”,并誓要把费用降下来。对此表示怀疑的McCain说,如果Carter不成功的话,他希望五角大楼考虑除F-35以外的其他选择。

How worried should Lockheed Martin be? The F-35 is the biggest biscuit in its barrel, by far. And it is not only Mr McCain who is seeking to knock a few chocolate chips out of it. The bipartisan fiscal responsibility and reform commission appointed by Mr Obama last year said that not all military aircraft need to be stealthy. It suggested cancelling the STOVL version of the F-35 and cutting the rest of its order by half, while buying cheaper F-16s and F-18s to keep numbers up. If America decided it could live with such a “high-low” mix, foreign customers might follow suit.

Lockheed Martin公司该有多么不安呢?F-35是其目前为止接手的最大一笔生意,想找机会给这单买卖把把脉的不只是McCain一个人。去年奥巴马任命的由两党共同组建的财政问责和改革委员会表示并非所有军用飞机都须具有隐身能力,它的建议是取消STOVL版本,并将剩余的F-35订单减少一半,同时购买价格较低的F-16和F-18来保证战机的数量。如果美国认为可以采用这种高低端战机混搭的方式,那么国外的客户很可能也如此效仿。

The danger for Lockheed Martin is that if orders start to tumble, the F-35 could go into a death spiral. The fewer planes governments order, the more each one will cost and the less attractive the F-35 will be. This happened to the even more sophisticated and expensive F-22. By cutting its order from 750 to 183, the Pentagon helped to drive the programme cost per aircraft of the F-22 up from $149m to $342m.

Lockheed Martin面临的风险是,如果订单数量骤减,F-35可能就一蹶不振了。各国政府订购的飞机数量越少,则每架飞机的成本就越高,F-35的吸引力就越小。类似情况曾发生在更先进更昂贵的F-22身上。五角大楼将F-22的订单从750架减少至183架,让每架飞机承担的项目成本从1.49亿美元飙升到了3.42以美元。

Lockheed Martin’s investors doubt this will happen to the F-35: the share price has been remarkably stable over the past two years. Tom Burbage, the executive who helped run the F-22 programme and who has also been in charge of the F-35’s development from the start, is still in charge—evidence that the company thinks he is doing a decent job. Mr Burbage says that a programme as big as the F-35 is bound to attract barbs. The main cause of the delays and cost over-runs, he says, is a problem with the weight of the STOVL version that came to light in 2004. It was impossible to continue work on the other two variants while this was being dealt with, he says. The plane was slimmed by 2,700lb (1,225kg), but this severely disrupted the supply chain that Lockheed Martin had put together with its main partners (BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman). That set the project back by nearly two years. On the bright side, Mr Burbage says that applying a similar diet to the other two variants yielded better planes.

Lockheed Martin公司的投资人不相信F-35会重蹈覆辙:公司的股价在过去两年异常稳定。Tom Burbage是公司的一名高管,曾参与F-22项目的运行,也从一开始就负责F-35的研发,现在也是如此-这说明公司认为他干得还不赖。Burbage说像F-35这么大的项目肯定会招来非议。他说进度拖延和成本超支的主要原因是STOVL版本战机在2004年暴露出了自身重量存在问题。据他称,在解决这个问题的同时,不可能再继续开发另外两个版本的战机。飞机最后减重了2700磅(1.225吨),但却严重打乱了Lockheed Martin和其主要合作伙伴(BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman)衔接起来的供应链,工程因此延后了两年时间。凡事也有好的一面,Burbage说另外两个版本的飞机实施相同的瘦身计划后变得更好了。

Mr Burbage is also confident that once production at the firm’s mile-long factory in Fort Worth ramps up to 17 aircraft a month, as planned, the more pessimistic unit-cost projections will start to fall. That, however, remains a distant prospect while the design of the aircraft keeps changing.

Burbage相信,公司位于Fort Worth的绵延数百米的厂房一旦能按计划达到17架/月的产量,对于单位成本的悲观论断就会开始减少。然而,飞机的设计仍然在改来改去,这种想法只是种遥远的启盼。

Even so, Mr Burbage points out that the fixed-price contract agreed with the Pentagon for 32 aircraft in the fourth production lot (including a 13% margin for Lockheed Martin) is half the price of the first lot of aircraft. Mr Burbage predicts that the average cost of the air force version will eventually be around $65m—about the same as the F-16 sells for today. One reason for the much higher Pentagon forecasts is that the cost is built up to include every contingency, including projecting inflation over the whole production cycle.

即使这样,Burbage指出公司与五角大楼签订的第四批投产的32架飞机定价合同(给Lockheed Martin留出了13%的利润空间)中的飞机报价仅为第一批投产飞机价格的一半。他预测空军装备的版本最终的均价会在650万美元/架左右-现在F-16的价格大致相同。五角大楼给出的估价要高出很多,一个原因是将所有可能发生的情况都考虑在内了,包括在整个生产周期内的发生通货膨胀的可能性。

In other words, the Pentagon and its contractor calculate future costs in completely different ways. That vertigo-inducing $1 trillion figure is so high because it covers such a long period—the government changed its initial cost projections to cover 50 rather than 30 years. It also increased the number of bases the aircraft would be stationed at from 33 to 49.


Mr Burbage rejects the assumption that the F-35 will cost a third more to sustain than the F-16s and F-18s it is replacing. He says that if you applied the same measures to legacy fighters the cost would be up to $3 trillion. He also remains convinced that the cost-saving ideas that first gave birth to the F-35 remain valid—commonality of spares, quick and easy replacement of components, advanced diagnostics and so on. Together they add up to a plane that will be twice as reliable as its predecessors and require fewer hands to maintain. Yet none of these benefits has been factored in because none has yet been proven.


Even if Mr Burbage is too sanguine, the F-35 is in no imminent danger. Its position is strengthened by two inarguable propositions. The first is that many of the current generation of fighters are approaching 30 years in service and must soon be replaced. The second is that because the F-35 was designed to replace so many types of aircraft, it has, in effect, a monopolist’s grip on the future fighter market.


Even if America and some of its NATO allies cut their orders, Lockheed Martin is confident that the numbers will be more than made up by countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. All these nations are rich and nervous of Beijing. Mr Burbage draws comparison with the F-16, of which more than 4,500 will be built over its long life.

即使美国及其一些北约盟友减少订单数量,Lockheed Martin也深信有日本、韩国、新加坡和台湾这些买家,飞机的销量只会多不会少,因为这些国家不差钱,对中国又颇为忌惮。Burbage将F-16引以为例,该型号飞机一共将出厂4500多架,可谓经久不衰。

The future belongs to the drones

But the longer-term outlook for the F-35 is uncertain. Its costly capabilities are intended to make it effective against the air defences of a sophisticated enemy, such as China. But the growing vulnerability of American aircraft carriers to Chinese missiles will mean operating from well beyond the F-35’s 600-mile (1,000km) range.


Some military strategists already think that the job the F-35 is meant to do can be better handled by cruise missiles and remotely piloted drones. In many roles, unmanned planes are more efficient: they carry neither a bulky pilot nor the kit that keeps him alive, which means they can both turn faster and be stealthier. And if they are shot down, no one dies. Even the F-35’s champions concede that it will probably be the last manned strike fighter aircraft the West will build.


  • pessimisticadj. 悲观的,悲观主义的
  • accountabilityn. 可说明性;有义务;有责任
  • reformv. 改革,改造,革新 n. 改革,改良
  • sophisticatedadj. 诡辩的,久经世故的,精密的,老练的,尖端的
  • advancedadj. 高级的,先进的
  • tacklev. 处理,对付,阻截 n. 用具,滑车,对付
  • pilotn. 飞行员,领航员,引航员 vt. 领航,驾驶,向导
  • contingencyn. 偶发事件,偶然
  • reapvt. 收割,收获,获得 vi. 收割
  • effectiveadj. 有效的,有影响的