Our first impressions from the Farnborough AirShow this year are that short termed, urgent requirements, have finally reached the air forces, traditionally known for their long term visionary and meticulous planning processes.
The recent conflicts fought at high profile, in Southwest Asia and Iraq, leave the military with minimal tolerance for error and, under these circumstances, they want everything right now and at the lowest cost.
With the absence of a major enemy, western air forces tend big ticket spending on buying new aircraft, while dragging procurement decisions on almost everything that does not directly support current combat requirements.
Fighter aircraft development and procurement programs are only one symbol of this trend. With a single, next generation fighters dominating the market for the foreseeable future, and the apparent commitment to buy few thousands F-35s over the next decades, the options open for air forces drill down to two – act now or wait and see. Some have already made their choices. The Canadians have recently decided in favor of the next generation fighter, as well as the Australians and British, but firm orders for production quantities are still pending. The U.S. Marine Corps are the most desperate for the new fighter, and the new accelerated test plan, currently underway, seems to brighten the future for the corps’ aviation, held in limbo as its current Vertical Take Off Short Landing (V/STOL) AV-8B and F/A-18C/D Hornets wear out under an extremely intensive operational regime.
Lockheed Martin, which has the highest stakes in the next generation fighter, opted to avoid the debate and visibly maintained a low profile with its F-35 program at Farnborough, leaving the scene for the competition. Wether this was a wise move or not, the future will tell, but it should certainly be scrutinized and questioned by the media.