The Hippo


Apr 18, 2019








F-35 jet
Joint strike fighter is a joint effort in N.H.

By Ryan Lessard

 The F-35 Lightning II is lauded by defense contractors and lawmakers alike as the future of air defense and a “force multiplier” that increases the effectiveness of the U.S. military. And many of its components are made in New Hampshire, adding jobs and injecting the local economy with hundreds of millions of dollars.

The jet
The plane descends from a Lockheed Martin design that won the government contract for the Joint Strike Fighter program in 2002. It’s pointed nose resembles a curved loon bill beneath a long cockpit canopy and nestled between two angular jet intakes. Alongside its sleek, flat hull are two primary wings, two rear wings and two dorsal fins above the rear engine. 
According to Bob Rubino, the deputy director of the F-35 program at Lockheed and a former F-18 pilot, the new jet represents the fifth generation of fighter jets in the U.S. military, replacing the F-16, F-18 and the AV-8B Harrier.
He said it is characterized by three main capabilities. It will have significant firepower, able to load up to 22,000 pounds of weaponry (compared to the max of 5,000 pounds on an F-16). Rubino calls it “beast mode.” It also has a stealth feature.
“It doesn’t make you invisible but it gets you awful close,” Rubino said.
And thirdly, it will have enhanced sensors and avionics that network with ground troops and ships at sea to vastly improve a pilot’s situational awareness and information sharing.
“It’s a lot like what it was for a flip phone versus a smartphone today,” Rubino said.
So far, there are about 40 aircraft active today between 12 bases for both the Air Force and Marine Corps. Lockheed plans to get the Navy its first shipment of jets within the next year or so.
A global contractor with a plant in Manchester called Gentex is making the helmet for the pilots and ground crew, including some of the various components within, such as ear protection, laser eye protection, communications and the oxygen mask.
The company has 900 employees worldwide, including about 80 in Manchester. Of that, Vice President of Aircrew Systems Robert McCay said, the Queen City plant has about 10 to 15 employees working directly on the F-35 project, which has created about 30 indirect jobs from its supply base. 
Since the project’s inception in 2002, the Manchester facility has been making the helmet microphones, which get integrated into the oxygen mask at another location, according to McCay. But for the past two and a half years, the plant has been working on making the noise reduction system, which is important because of how loud the engines get.
“Our active noise reduction headset embedded in the air crew helmet and our stand-alone digital active noise reduction triple hearing production headset will provide the most advanced hearing protection available, while allowing clear communications in extreme noise fields that the F-35 has to perform in,” McCay said in a speech at a recent event promoting the project at its Manchester location.
Thus far, he said, Lockheed has been making the jets at a rate of roughly 50 per year, but that will increase soon.
“For us that [amounts] to almost 500 headsets … a year for the aircrew,” McCay said.
Local economy
Temco in Manchester makes the plane’s flare magazines and antenna arrays, according to Temco president Norman Gagne.
Rubino said the project has created about 140,000 direct and indirect jobs in the country, and in New Hampshire about 3,500 direct and indirect jobs between about 55 firms. About half of those are small businesses, he said, and of those jobs, about 1,000 are for people working directly on the project. All that production, he said, amounts to an injection of about $500 million into the local economy.
And as production ramps up in the coming years, job creation and economic impact are expected to take off in the state. 
Rubino said they’ll be finishing production of 66 planes this year, which is considered low-rate production for this project, but higher than previous generation jets. Next year, 90 planes will be delivered, and by 2020, they’ll make more than 150, he said.
While the additional planes won’t amount to a one-for-one increase in jobs, Rubino does anticipate a significant increase.
According to Rubino, each plane will cost between $80 million and $85 million over the life of the project, which is on par with the cost of fourth-generation planes.
Many critics of the F-35 program have called it an expensive boondoggle that will cost the U.S. about $1.5 trillion until it’s phased out in 2070, according to CNBC.
The project is about six years behind schedule. According to the defense blog “War is Boring,” a test pilot said the jet is less maneuverable than the F-16, making it potentially weaker in a dogfight.  
According to a report by CNN, at one point, the Air Force had planned to replace the popular A-10 Warthog with the F-35, something experts called a bad idea since the A-10’s mission of close air support for ground troops couldn’t be performed by the faster, newer jet. But pushback from military rank-and-file and from top Washington leaders like Arizona Sen. John McCain and New Hampshire’s former Sen. Kelly Ayotte appear to have won the day.
Earlier this year the Air Force announced it would continue the A-10 program indefinitely into the future. Despite first entering the air in the mid-1970s, it’s proven proficient at its mission.
“What we’ve heard from our warriors on the ground is how important the A-10 is in these close situations when our troops are pinned down,” Sen. Maggie Hassan said at the Gentex event. “So the Air Force has indicated that they do plan to continue to use the A-10 because of that very specific capability it has, but at the same time we know that the F-35 is going to be a force multiplier because it will have so many different capabilities, one of them being stealth, which is so critically important right now.” 

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