Friday, 26 August 2016

CASTEd Away : F-16 Production Shifting To India ... Exclusively

F-16C from Shaw AFB departs after refueling from a KC-135 aerial tanker during
Exercise Sentry Savannah 16-3 3rd Aug 2016.
Note its assortment of missiles including the AIM-120 AMRAAM,
AIM-9X, AGM-88 HARM and targeting pod. Photo : USAF

Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, nicknamed the Viper, is one of the most prolific 4th generation fighter aircraft in the world with more than 4573 produced and counting. It was originally conceived in the early seventies as a light weight fighter for selected NATO allies as a replacement for their then ageing F-104 Starfighter interceptor and also as a supplement to the highly capable but prohibitively expensive F-15 Eagle for the US Air Force. First flight took place in 1974 and the first F-16A was delivered to the USAF in 1978. Since then, it has also equipped the air forces of many non-NATO countries like Israel, Iraq, Egypt, UAE, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.
Initially just an air superiority day fighter, the F-16 has over the years accumulated many game-changing enhancements and has evolved into the all-weather multi-role combat aircraft that it is today. With it acquisition costs had also escalated from an initial US$4.6 million for the F-16A Block 1 in 1978 to $60 million for the latest F-16V version today.

After close to four decades of distinguished service, the F-16 is gradually becoming a weary warhorse. It is being superseded in many aspects by newer generation combat aircrafts like its successor the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and Russia's advanced Flankers like the Su-30 and the Su-35 and their Chinese clones.

Lockheed Martin still has enough F-16 on its order books to keep its production lines open until 2017 but beyond that the future is less certain. The company's focus has obviously shifted towards achieving volume production of the F-35, currently still stuck in the Low Rate Initial Production ( LRIP ) phase.

The latest development is Lockheed Martin's plan to move the entire F-16 production to India and its intention to develop the most super duper Fighting Falcon ever, the F-16 Block 70/72, exclusively for the Indian Air Force. Such a move will surely have global repercussions and strategic implications, and would probably mark the beginning of the end of the road for the Fighting Falcon.

F-16C of the Arizona Air National Guard 162nd Wing 8th Apr 2015. USAF Photo


Who Is Still Buying The F-16?

The USAF had long since stopped buying the F-16. All the available funds are currently channeled towards the procurement of the F-35A and Service Life Extension Program ( SLEP ) for the F-16 while awaiting sufficient numbers of the F-35 to fill the ranks.

There are currently also not many other countries that are still keen to acquire new build F-16s. In fact, some of the earliest adopters of the F-16 like the Netherlands and Portugal had already divested or retired part of their Falcon fleet. Some of these surplus F-16s were sold to countries like Jordan, Romania and Chile while others were cannibalized for parts to keep the existing fleet going for a few more years. More notable F-16 sales in the past few years included the 36 F-16IQ sold to Iraq and the 30 F-16E/F Block 61 sold to the UAE.

On the other hand, there were also cases where F-16 sales had been deliberately blocked by US law makers for a variety of reasons, like Taiwan's repeatedly stalled and now failed attempt to buy advanced F-16 versions since 2001. The most recent example is Pakistan's request for 8 Block 50/52+ F-16s ( two C and six D models ) which the State Department approved in Feb 2016. However the funding from the Foreign Military Financing program to the tune of some $430 million was denied to Pakistan because it allegedly provided a safe haven to terrorists and it's reluctance to target the Haqqani network who attacked US interests across the boarder in Afghanistan. The sale collapsed without the subsidy.

Now, seemingly out of the blue, there is news that India will be offered the most advanced version of the F-16, perhaps as a contender for its long drawn, muddled and already cancelled medium multi-role combat aircraft ( MMRCA ) program which originally was supposed to provide the Indian Air Force ( IAF ) with 126 fighters to replace its Soviet era MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters. These ancient aircrafts were in such a bad shape and crashes had occurred so frequently that the IAF's MiG-21 had been nicknamed the Widowmaker.

F-16 of the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Wing breaking
and discharging flares 8th Apr 2015. USAF Photo

India's Farcical MMRCA Program

Initiated in 2001 with the issuing of the Request for Information ( RFI ), the MMRCA program was about as old as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. It was to be an open tender and about $8 billion had been sanctioned by the Indian government for the program. The program was plagued by bureaucracy and repeated delays from the word go and the Request for Proposal ( RFP ) was not released to the bidders until 2007. Then the deadline for the submission of Formal Proposals by the bidders had to be extended due to the complexity of the RFP. The six aircrafts that had been included for evaluation were the Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Block 60, the Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet, the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen and the Mikoyan MiG-35.

The MMRCA Fabulous Six : left to right Rafale, Eurofighter, F-16IN, F/A-18E,
JAS-39 and MiG-35. Wikipaedia

Flight evaluations began in late 2009 and were declared completed by late 2010. Only the Rafale and the Eurofighter made it to the final shortlist. Then there was the evaluation of industrial off-set offers, technology transfer value, and total cost based on purchase cost and life cycle cost which involved another bid by the finalists in late 2011, the year the MMRCA was originally supposed to have been fielded!

Finally, the Rafale was declared the winner in Jan 2012 and there was the contract negotiations to be completed. The final value of the MMRCA deal for 126 aircraft was estimated to be between $20 to $25 billion, a huge increase from the $12 billion estimation in 2007. The original plan was for France to supply 18 aircrafts in flyaway condition and have the remaining 108 70% manufactured by Hindustan Aerospace Limited ( HAL ) in India. Contract signing was postponed in 2013 when India discovered it had no budget for the aircrafts due to the cost overruns and had to wait till the next fiscal year. Negotiations then stalled when neither Dassault nor HAL was willing to give guarantees about delivery timelines.

A break through of sorts occurred during Indian Prime Minister Modi's visit to France in 2014 where he agreed to buy 36 Rafale fighter from France directly, in view of the long delays in the MMRCA program which made the acquisition very urgent. Despite the PM's directives, the final contract signing never materialized as Dassault was unwilling to provide quality guarantees of those Rafales to be produced by HAL, rightfully. By mid 2015, the MMRCA program was essentially dead, even when India had been offered the same price that the French Air Force had been getting for the Rafale, a 25% discount from the export price. The Rafale which did not manage to secure a single export order before its selection by the IAF, was propelled from zero to hero and then back to zero again, save the subsequent sales to Egypt and Qatar.

French Air Force Rafale B with external fuel tanks and precision munitions, Mali 2013.
 The Rafale was selected as the winning bid of India's MMRCA program. Photo : USAF

F-16 Block 70/72

This is the latest offering to the Indian Air Force by Lockheed Martin with the latest AESA radar and the most advanced avionics and sensors including Infra-Red Search and Tract ( IRST ) and advanced targeting and navigation systems. Conformal Fuel Tanks ( CFT ) like those found on UAE's F-16E/F Block 61 Desert Falcons are likely part of the package. It is said to be THE ultimate Fighting Falcon, more advanced than anything before it, and developed exclusively for India.

It is not the same aircraft as the F-16IN Super Viper offered during the MMRCA tender. This will be the Mother of All F-16s. It is probably Lockheed Martin's last effort to squeeze more profits from an old product as sales plummet with its impending obsolescence, as the production line looked set to be permanently shut down should no more new orders be gathered in the very near future.

With that aircraft offer came the promise to shift the entire F-16 production line from Fort Worth to India, essentially giving away the knowhow of F-16 construction and also providing India with the power to control future F-16 sales, if any. Pakistan would not be getting anymore new F-16s for sure if India had its way.

F-16F Block 61 with Conformal Fuel Tanks.

F-16 Production Lines Through The Years

There had been five different production lines for the F-16 in as many countries over the years. The main US production line at Fort Worth, Texas, is the perennial facility that produced the first YF-16 prototype, the Full Scale Development aircrafts and close to 80% of all F-16s ever built, over 3500 airframes in all. It had changed its name twice over the production history of the F-16, from General Dynamics to Lockheed when the latter bought over the aviation division of the former, and then again to Lockheed Martin when Lockheed merged with Martin Marietta in 1995. It is the only F-16 production line that is currently still active, though not for much longer.

Foreign production lines included Fokker which built the F-16 for the Netherlands and Norway, Sabca for Belgium and Denmark, Samsung for South Korea and TUSAS Aerospace Industries for Turkey and Egypt. All had completed and ceased production of the F-16. Some, like Fokker are no longer in business after going into receivership.

4500th F-16 Delivery Ceremony at Fort Worth for the Moroccan Air Force,
 3rd Apr 2012. Photo : Lockheed Martin

Shifting All Future F-16 Production To India : A Lower Caste Falcon?

The main problem with off-shoring F-16 production to India, or any other country apart from the United States for that matter, is the assurance of quality. Because India is not America. Workers are paid in Rupees, not Dollars, and a single rupee is equivalent to one and a half US cent.

Compared with products made in other countries such as China, those made in the USA generally have superior quality and durability. Once upon a time not too long ago, when America and Europe were still the manufacturing hub for the world, things were made to last almost a lifetime, like refrigerators that worked for decades without any need for maintenance or repairs. However, let's not generalize but focus on the F-16 itself. That this compact aircraft is well constructed can be seen from the Fleet Report from indicating that the active fleet's average service life is 22.44 years and probably growing as delays to its successor the F-35 meant that the service life of the F-16 had to be lengthened, with a small number of airframes having been in service for up to 37 years ( since 1979 )! But plenty of years in service may not mean much if the airframe was under-utilized to stretch its service life. Another parameter to consider would be the Equivalent Flight Hour ( EFH ). The F-16 Block 50 airframe had an EFH rating of 8000 hours and the aircraft would be forcefully retired from active service and perhaps put into storage after coming close to the certified EFH, say upon reaching the 7000th EFH. At least that's what happened in the United States. The latest from Fort Worth was that Lockheed Martin had completed more than 27000 hours of simulated flight time on an F-16 Block 50 aircraft at its Full Scale Durability Test Facility.

The F-16C was tested to 27723 EFH during 32 rounds of comprehensive stress tests over a period of nearly two years. It was subjected to several maximum-load conditions to demonstrate that the airframe was still strong enough to operate within its full operational flight envelope. The aircraft is currently in the teardown inspection and fractography phase of the test program and the data collected will be used to ultimately support extending the F-16 service life certification to at least 12000 EFH or beyond and to assist in the design and verification of SLEP structural modifications for post-Block 40 F-16s.

Susan Ouzts, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 program, claimed that the successful completion of the full-scale durability testing demonstrated that the F-16 was built to last and she truly had the right to brag, based on what we have seen so far. The question is, can the same better-than-specifications standards of quality and durability be expected for F-16s produced in India or should we lower our expectations? Would anybody other than India want a Made-in-India Falcon? The original is always the best and the gold standard to be benchmarked against!

F-16 discharging flares at the Grand Bay Bombing and Gunnery Range, Moody AFB, GA.
USAF Photo.

Next, how would the shift of F-16 production to India affect the manufacturing costs? Logically, production costs should decrease with lower labour costs and land costs but that's assuming productivity remains the same whether in the US or in India. It would be a positive development if the unit cost of the latest F-16 versions could be brought down with the shift of production lines, making the Falcon just a little more competitive against a maturing F-35 whose unit price is also gradually improving. Otherwise, who would consider the F-16V at $60 million when the F-35A, a generation more advanced with stealth and sensor fusion, could be had for "just" $25 million more in two year's time?

Then there is the question of availability. With the global active F-16 fleet still standing at almost 3000 aircrafts of all versions, would access to parts be a problem with the shift of production to India? What of Pakistan? India surely would not make it easy for its arch enemy to obtain supplies and parts for the maintenance of its F-16 fleet. Would India comply if ordered by the United States? What if the order books dried up after the production run for India's F-16 Block 70/72 and the entire line was shut down? Should that happen, even the USAF would have to depend on cannibalization of parts from old or retired airframes. The scariest part would be that the shut down could be a commercial decision that the US might not have much say since the manufacturing facilities was not located within its own territory.

Finally, there remained a lot to be said about how the Indians conduct themselves in a commercial transaction. Just looking at the MMRCA program and one can already conclude that it is perhaps best not to bother with ANY Indian business propositions. Because you are just going to be driven up the wall by unreasonable and exasperating demands and in the end all your efforts would still be in vain as the deal would be cancelled one way or another. Unless, of course, if you are Russian. Somehow the Russians could promise the heavens and make the client commit themselves to a deal beyond the point of no return and then go in for the kill and jack up prices for a variety of reasons. China's failed Il-76 and Il-78 acquisition in 2005 at a too good to be true average price of $27 million per aircraft ( 38 aircrafts at $1.045 billion ) and the retrofitting of India's aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya ( ex-Admiral Goshkov ) which was 4 years late and $1.2 billion over-budget are good examples.

INS Vikramaditya ( Ex-Adm Goshkov ) during sea trails.
The conversion to a short take-off barrier arrested recovery carrier was
4 years late and $1.2 billion over budget. Wikipedia 

How Indians Conduct Their Business Deals

From personal first hand experience dealing with Indian businessmen, a cultural perspective :

Firstly, they always claim to be the biggest entity in their respective fields. When negotiating a deal, the prospective businessman would first attempt to make you believe that he or the organization that he represented is the BIGGEST player in the local market with the best distribution or dealership network or the biggest local influence. So he is the big fish you should be doing business with.

He would then ask for quotations or proposals based on HUGE volumes, making the uninitiated believe that he had struck gold. Obviously, large volume discounts would already have been factored in when the quotation or tender price was submitted.

Then, all sorts of reasons, mostly excuses, would be given or possibly fabricated to Par The Prices Down Even Further. The Indians do not seem to give a damn if you could make even a small profit out of the deal. They would drive the prices down so much until you make a loss. Indian business deals are a zero sum game, they win, at your expense, always. Sorry.

Next comes the inevitable reduction in the purchase volume. The original commitment to the astounding number of units could not be honoured for various unforeseeable reasons. Much less would be sort after but still At The Same Volume Discount Price. It doesn't make business sense but they don't care.

Even when the parties have reached an agreement on the final price, there might still be the unusual or unreasonable demands like industrial off-sets and technology transfers or bureaucratic hurdles to cross, failing which the entire deal might just be cancelled. Sometimes they are just terminated, no apparent reasons given. Had the deal gone through, you might soon discover that you really Earned Pretty Next To Nothing for all the frustrations you had to endure throughout the drawn out deal.

To sum it up in a sentence, it's All Words But No / Very Little Action. Don't believe me? Just ask Francois Hollande who went through each phase that I had described for nothing in the end, or Singapore's ST Kinetics who was even accused of bribery in the Indian Army 155mm Howitzer tender, again with no deal ultimately.

A Case Of Seller Beware?

It might sound like a good idea, at least on paper, for Lockheed Martin to offer the most advanced and sophisticated F-16 ever to the Indian Air Force after their repeatedly stalled and now completely failed attempt to procure up to a total of 126 MRCA. After all, the F-16's days are numbered with dwindling sales and impending obsolescence. Why not make a last ditch effort to make more money out of it before the production line shuts down for good? Better still, free up resources to focus on the next generation product, the F-35, by having the manufacturing of the obsolete product done in the client's country where overheads are much lower. The F-16 production line then gets another few extra years of operations during which hopefully more orders might come in, all without burdening the Fort Worth facilities.

For reasons mentioned above, the incredible level of red tape and bureaucracy partly inherited from colonial days and the fact that India is not the most business friendly nation on earth with the implementation of retrospective taxation and all, Lockheed Martin really have to tread carefully on this and do all the due diligence properly. Instead of the usual caveat emptor, we might have an opposite situation, that of seller beware. Otherwise there might be plenty of hand wringing and teeth gnashing to do in the near future.

Don't say I didn't warn you, Buddy.


Friday, 19 August 2016

The Wind Rises : Jiro, Zero And Contrails 風立ちぬ : 堀越二郎 . 零戦 . ひこうき雲


The Mitsubishi Zero A6M2b of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
The Zero fighter is also known as the Reisen ( 零戦 ). Photo : Tamiya


The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises ( 風立ちぬ Kaze Tachinu ) is a 2013 Japanese animated film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki ( 宮崎駿 ) and animated by Studio Ghibili ( スタジオジブリ ). It is a fictionalized biopic about Jiro Horikoshi ( 堀越二郎 1903 - 1982 ), the principal designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter which dominated the skies of the Pacific Theatre at the beginning of World War II. The film is adapted from Miyazaki's manga of the same name which in turn was loosely based on the 1937 short story The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori ( 堀辰雄 1904 - 1953 ).

It won widespread critical acclaim, being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year. According to the Motion Pictures Producers Association of Japan, The Wind Rises was the top grossing film in Japan for 2013, raking in a total of JPY12.02 billion ( USD120 million ).

Its success in Japan is no doubt aided by the beautiful animation rendered by the artists of Studio Ghibili, the gripping and thought provoking story line and the equally captivating theme song Hikokigumo ( Contrails ), composed and sung by Arai Yumi ( 荒井由実 ). It also helps when the Zero, Imperial Japan's best fighter aircraft of World War II, still lives in the hearts and minds of many Japanese, including the younger generation born after the War, attaining some kind of cult status.

Elsewhere, in North America, Studio Ghibili's films are distributed by Walt Disney through its Touchstone Pictures label. In the United Kingdom, the film was distributed by StudioCanal.

The Japanese movie poster for Hayao Miyazaki's
The Wind Rises

The Japanese movie poster for Hayao Miyazaki's
The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises is a Studio Ghibili film by the
award winning director Hayao Miyazaki.

Studio Ghibili and Hayao Miyazaki

It is not possible to fully appreciate The Wind Rises without understanding a little bit more about the studio and its famed director. Hayao Miyazaki was born on 5th Jan 1941 in Tokyo, Japan. The Miyazaki family owned an aircraft company, Miyazaki Aviation ( 宮崎航空興学 ), which had a profitable business making rudders for the Zero fighter during WWII. As a young child, he experienced the horrors of the night time firebombing raids by the USAAF on Utsunomiya, an industrial city 100km north of Tokyo. This would turn out to have a profound effect on Miyazaki for the rest of his life, contributing to his anti-war and pacifist outlook. Lacking physical prowess and frequently sick as a child, Miyazaki became an avid reader especially of illustrated books and had aspired to be a manga author from a tender age. His interest in animation started after being captivated by The Legend of the White Snake白蛇伝 Hakujaden ), Japan's first full color animation, in 1958. He taught himself to draw, and was influenced by Impressionist such as Paul Cezanne.

After graduating from the prestigious Gukushuin University with a degree in Political Science and Economics in 1963, he joined Toei Animation ( Sailor Moon, Dragonball, Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999 ) as an artist. It was at Toei that his talents as an animator and a story teller was recognized. He directed his first feature anime film The Castle of Cagliostro in 1979. His next film, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, an adaptation of his science-fantasy manga of the same name set in a post-apocalyptic world full of strange plants and giant insects, was released in 1984. In it we could already see many of the recurring themes that Miyazaki would continue to explore in his later films, including his fascination with flight and flying machines, the impact of mankind and their interactions with the environment and his anti-war stance. The film's success paved the way for Miyazaki's co-founding of Studio Ghibili in 1985 with fellow director Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki and his life long collaboration with composer Joe Hisaishi ( 久石譲 ).

Laputa : Castle in the Sky, released in 1986 was Studio Ghibili's first film. It won the Animage Anime Grand Prix that year. What followed in 1988 was Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Takahata, about the desperate struggle for survival of two young siblings amidst the bombing raids on Kobe during the closing months of WWII with a very tragic ending. At the same time, Studio Ghibili released another film My Neighbour Totoro, directed by Miyazaki, about two young sisters in post-war rural Japan interacting with friendly forest spirits that would prove to be its greatest success, so much so that the iconic Totoro character, now a household name, even features on the studio's logo. Many more animated films followed, like Kiki's Delivery Service ( 1989 ), Porco Rosso ( 1992 ) from which we could sense Miyazaki's nostalgia for the scenes and traditional way of life in pre-war Japan and his love for old-styled European architecture.

From 1996, partnership with Disney to distribute Ghibili films outside of Japan enabled the studio to reach out to an international audience. Americans and Europeans were exposed to the Ghibili magic through films like Princess Mononoke ( 1997 ), Spirited Away ( 2001 ) which won the Acedemy Awards for best animated feature in 2003, Howl's Moving Castle ( 2004 ), Tales from Earthsea ( 2006 ), Ponyo ( 2008 ) and Arrietty ( 2010 ).

In 2001, the Ghibili Museum was established in Mitaka ( 三鷹 ), a suburb of Tokyo. Specially designed for children, it contains exhibits of Studio Ghibili's films and animations and features Ghibili's short films exclusive to the museum. The museum is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike and tickets have to be booked way in advance and are frequently sold out.

Throughout his career as a manga artist, author, animator, screen writer, producer and film director that has spanned five decades, Hayao Miyazaki has established himself as one of the greatest name in the history of animation. Now 75 years old, he had repeatedly tried to retire for a total of six times in the past, only to return to the studio each time after a short hiatus. After the release of The Wind Rises in 2013, he announced his retirement from making full length feature films and so far it seems for real. If so it could be the biggest lost for fans of Studio Ghibili because nobody it seems could step into the shoes of Hayao Miyazaki.

Hayao Miyazaki in a 2009 photo. Wikipaedia

Totoro, a cat-like guardian of the forest with a physique strikingly similar to
Snorlax of Pokémon Go, adorns the Studio Ghibili logo. In the animation
My Neighbour Totoro, it slumbers in its den beneath the roots of a giant
camphor tree. I suspect Snorlax has its origins in Totoro. Image : Studio Ghibili.

The Story

The year was 1918. Schoolboy Jiro Horikoshi wanted to be a pilot but was prevented from achieving his dream because of his severe short-sightedness. He read about the famous Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista "Gianni" Caproni and dreamt about him. In his dream Caproni told him that he had never flown a plane in his life and that constructing them is far better than flying them.

Five years later, amidst the post-war economic depression of the early Twenties where poverty and diseases ruled, Horikoshi was travelling by train to study aeronautical engineering at the Tokyo Imperial University when he met a young girl Naoko and her maid by chance. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 struck, injuring Naoko's maid. Horikoshi helped to bring Naoko and her maid back to their home in Tokyo but left without leaving a contact.

In 1927, Horikoshi graduated from the university and began working at the Mitsubishi Aircraft Company. He was tasked to design a fighter plane for the Imperial Army but the aircraft broke apart during trials and was rejected by the Army. Dejected from the seemingly pitiful state of the Japanese aviation industry, Horikoshi was sent to Germany in 1929 to understudy the Germans and to obtain a production license for the Junkers G.38. He dreamt about Caproni again, who told him about the beauty of airplanes, even if humans subjected them to evil uses.

In 1932, Horikoshi became the chief designer for a new naval fighter, but his design again failed to impress and was rejected by the Navy. Depressed from his setbacks, Horikoshi took a break and went to the highland retreat of Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture. There, again by chance, he was reunited with an older Naoko. They fell in love and became engaged, but Horikoshi learned that Naoko was suffering from tuberculosis, then an incurable infectious disease. Naoko had initially refused to marry Horikoshi until her illness was cured, opting to recuperate at the alpine sanatorium when Horikoshi returned to work on his prototype. However, unable to bear the pain of separation, Naoko eventually left the sanatorium for the city and the couple was married. They enjoyed a brief period of marital bliss until Naoko's illness deteriorated for the worst.

By 1935, Horikoshi eventually perfected his design, the Mitsubishi A5M, predecessor of the A6M Zero. At the test site, Horikoshi felt a gust of wind after the successful conclusion of the trials and he sensed the passing of Naoko.

Fast forward to the summer of 1945. Japan had lost the War and suffered untold destruction and loss of lives in the process. Horikoshi again dreamt of Caproni and told him that he regretted that his aircrafts had been used for war. A group of Zeros flew past and their pilots saluted Horikoshi. Caproni comforted him, saying that at least his desire for building beautiful planes was accomplished. In his dream, Naoko appeared and urged Jiro to live his life to the fullest. " The wind has risen, we must try to live! ". ( 風立ちぬ、いざ生きめやも )

Horikoshi Jiro and the Type 9 prototype that would evolve into the
Mishibishi Type 96 A5M Claude.

This is the official UK trailer with the film score only :

You can watch the official US trailer with the abbreviated Hikokigumo theme song below :

The Japanese trailer with the full length Hikokigumo theme song is here ( recommended ) :


The Theme Song : Hikokigumo ( Contrails )

While most of Studio Ghibili's animated films have theme songs that were composed specifically for them, that of The Wind Rises was selected from an old album of famed singer and song writer Yumi Arai ( 荒井由実 ), also known by her nickname Yuming and married name Yumi Matsutoya ( 松任谷由実 ). That song was Hikokigumo, from the album of the same name released in Nov 1973 ( EMI Records Japan ). The word Hikokigumo ( 飛行機雲 ) literally translates to aircraft cloud, or contrail.

Born in 1954, Yumi had started her career in the song and entertainment industry at an early age of 14 years old. When she was 16 years old one of her acquaintance, an old classmate from elementary school, committed suicide by jumping from height after a long battle with muscular dystrophy, a hereditary degenerative disease that has no cure. She composed the song Hikokigumo out of sadness. Although beautifully written, Hikokigumo was never an initial success compared to her other songs. Almost four decades would have passed before Toshio Suzuki brought the song to the attention of Miyazaki in 2012, believing that it suited the film The Wind Rises very well.

When Miyazaki decided to use Hikokigumo as the theme song of his movie, Yumi was overjoyed not least because the song had finally received the recognition that it deserved. With the release of the feature film in the summer of 2013, Hikokigumo became an instant hit in Japan.

Cover art of Yuming x Studio Ghibili Hikokigumo 40th Anniversary
Commemorative CD+DVD Limited Edition 2013 featuring
 " Contrails " ( Hikoukigumo ひこうき雲 ) by Arai Yumi 荒井由実.

Many people would be moved to tears if only they could understand what the lyrics in Japanese were trying to say.

You can hear Hikokigumo being sung by Japanese singer Aya Matauura ( 松浦亜弥 ) at the Luxury Christmas Night 2013 Concert ( 21/22 Dec 2013 )  below : 


Lyrics : Arai Yumi

Composed By : Arai Yumi

白い坂道が 空まで続いていた
Shiroi Sakamichi ga Sora made Tsuzuiteita

ゆらゆらかげろうが あの子を包む
Yurayura kagerouga Anoko wo Tsutsumu

誰も気づかず ただひとり
Daremo Kizukazu Tada Hitori

Anoko wa Nobotte Yuku

何もおそれない そして舞い上がる
Nanimo Osorenai Soshite Maiagaru

空に憧れて 空をかけてゆく
Sora ni Akogarete Sora o Kakete Yuku

Anoko no Inochiwa Hikouki Gumo

高いあの窓で あの子は死ぬ前も
Takai Ano Madode Anokowa Shinu Maemo

空を見ていたの 今はわからない
Sora o Mi teitano Ima wa Wakaranai

ほかの人には わからない
Hokanohitoni wa Wakaranai

Amari nimo Wakasugita to

ただ思うだけ けれどしあわせ
Tada Omou dake Keredo Shiawase

空に憧れて 空をかけてゆく
Sora ni Akogarete Sora o Kakete Yuku

Anoko no Inochiwa Hikouki Gumo

空に憧れて 空をかけてゆく
Sora ni Akogarete Sora o Kakete Yuku

Anoko no Inochiwa Hikouki Gumo

Translated :


The white sloping road continues on to the sky
The shimmering heat wave envelopes the child
Nobody seems to notice, she is all alone
The child ascends
She does not have any fears, she soars up high
Yearning for the sky, dashing across the sky
Contrails are the child's life
Through the high window, even before her death
She was gazing at the sky, nobody knows if she still does
The other people do not understand
Only thinking that she is too young
But she is happy
Yearning for the sky, dashing across the sky
Contrails are the child's life
Yearning for the sky, dashing across the sky
Contrails are the child's life

You can listen to the entire Hikoukigumo Album ( CD recording ) sung by Arai Yumi below :

Farewell Masterpiece

How could one tell the story of the creator of the Zero without glorifying the War or the machine? Hayao Miyazaki had proven that it was possible, and he did it in his own stunning way. It celebrated the life and achievements of Jiro Horikoshi while reminding us about the fragility of the human life and the terrible consequences of war.

The Wind Rises had been hailed as Miyazaki's farewell masterpiece. Over the years he had established his unique style of storytelling and illustration that nobody could duplicate, not his long time partner Isao Takahata, not even his own son Goro Miyazaki. When combined with the beautiful film score composed by Joe Hisaishi and the heart wrenching theme song Hikokigumo by Arai Yumi, you get a rare timeless gem of an epic that everybody should watch.

My Blu-Ray + DVD from Amazon

Fine Molds has a 1/48 Scale model of the Type 9 Fighter.

Fine Molds also has a 1/48 Scale Jiro no Tori gata Hikouki ( Jiro's Bird Airplane )




On Jiro Horikoshi

Dr Horikoshi Jiro was born on 22nd Jun 1903 in the city of Fujioka in Japan's Gunma Prefecture. He studied at the Tokyo Imperial University from 1924 and graduated with honors from the Faculty of Engineering's Aviation Department. After graduation, he joined the Mitsubishi Internal Combustion Engine Company in 1927, the predecessor of today's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' Nagoya Aircraft Manufacturing Plant which built the X-2 ATD-X experimental stealth fighter.

By 1932, five years into his employment, he was appointed the chief designer for the flawed Mitsubishi Type 7 Fighter ( aka A3M1 ) for the Imperial Japanese Navy ( IJN ), then an advanced single seat monoplane design in an era still dominated by bi-planes. The project unfortunately never went into fruition and was cancelled after two of the prototypes crashed. He was then sent on a study trip to Europe and America for a year and a half to learn cutting edge aviation technology.

In 1934, Horikoshi was involved in designing another fighter for the IJN. Initially known as the Type 9 Fighter, the first prototype had advanced features such as smooth surfaces to increase aerodynamic efficiency and an innovative inverted gull-wing design. This unusual wing shape was prominently featured in Miyazaki's animation, with gliders and Zero fighters all having this trait.

The Type 9 prototype with inverted gull wings. Image : Fine Molds

Success finally came in 1935, when Horikoshi's prototype number 2 with straight wings was adopted by the IJN as the navy's first all metal monoplane fighter. This carrier-borne fighter was also known as the Type 96 or the Mitsubishi A5M ( Allied code name Claude ).

The Type 96 or Mitsubishi A5M4 Claude at the Shizuoka Hobby Show 2016.
Photo : Response

The A5M barely entered service in 1937 when the IJN started looking for its successor, with special emphasis on great speed, high rate of climb, super endurance and with maneuverability at least on par, all with existing Japanese engine designs. Horikoshi, by then Mitsubishi's chief designer, achieved the near impossible by drastically reducing the weight of the aircraft through the use of new light-weight aluminum alloys and compromising on armour protection and self-sealing tanks. The result was the Type 0, otherwise known as the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter, allied code name Zeke. The Zero or Reisen as the Japanese called it was the most advanced carrier-based fighter at the outbreak of the Pacific War in late 1941. It could out-fly, out-climb and out-maneuver any of the Allied fighters of that time and it had the longest range of any single-engine fighter in the world. Its only weakness was ballistic protection, where the lack of self sealing tanks made the Zero likely to explode in a fireball after being hit by enemy fire.

Horikoshi would continue to design other fighters for the IJN throughout the War, including the Mitsubishi J2M Raiden ( 雷電 Allied code name Jack ) and the Mitsubishi A7M Reppu ( 烈風 Allied code name Sam ) which did not see service when the War ended. Despite his close working relationship with the Japanese military and his direct involvement in building some of Japan's war machines, Horikoshi was strongly opposed to what he regarded as a futile war against the United States. He was well aware of the industrial might of the United States and had fervently hoped that his country would have some sort of exit strategy from the Pacific War before its inevitable defeat and destruction. As the war progressed, he experienced first hand the horrific nature of the USAAF's bombing raids on Nagoya where his manufacturing plant was located.

The Mitsubishi J2M3 Raiden ( Allied code name Jack ). 
Raiden ( 雷電 ) means thunder and lightning in Japanese. Photo : Hasegawa

After the War, he was involved in the design of the YS-11, a twin-engine turboprop airliner. He eventually retired from the restructured Mitsubishi and took up lecturing posts first at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Space and Aeronautics ( 1963 -65 ) and later at the National Defense Academy ( 1965 - 69 ) and finally at Nihon University's Faculty of Engineering ( 1972 - 73 ). He died of pneumonia in a hospital in Tokyo on 11th Jan 1982, age 78.

To set the records straight, Horikoshi married his wife Sumako Sasaki ( 佐々木須磨子 ) through an arranged marriage in 1932. They were blessed with six children. Sumako never had tuberculosis and therefore was never associated with any sanatorium stay. The Great Kanto Earthquake did happen in 1923 and caused widespread destruction in Greater Tokyo, but Naoko and the train journey were fictitious. The alpine resort of Karuizawa ( 軽井沢 ) does exist and today is only about an hour away from Tokyo by the Hokuriku Shinkansen( 北陸新幹線 ). It is right at the foothills of Mount Asama ( 浅間山 ), an active volcano. Apart from the many hotspring ryokans, there is also a Premium Factory Outlet. The area is popular as a ski resort in winter.

Tuberculosis, an infectious disease caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis germ is today curable through the use of special antibiotic regimes that usually involves the combination of two or sometimes three different drugs with long treatment durations of between three to nine months. Rifampicine, Ethambuthol and Isoniazid are some of the anti-tuberculous antibiotics available to the modern physician, but the disease is having a world wide resurgence due to the HIV epidemic and the emergence of multi-drug resistant strains. The movie is a powerful reminder that it wasn't too long ago that being diagnosed with tuberculosis was the equivalent of getting a death sentence ......

Horikoshi Jiro when he was student at the
Tokyo Imperial University in 1924. Wikipedia

Undated photo of Sasaki Sumako. Image : Nippon Television Network Corporation


Reisen Forever

I wouldn't include the technical specifications of the different variants of the Zero Fighter in this article. You can read for yourselves here. I believe the Zero or Reisen ( 零戦 ) as it is commonly called in Japan has a special place in the hearts of many modern Japanese, young and old alike. As Miyazaki himself puts it, the Zero is one of the few things that the Japanese people can still be proud of. Unfortunately, although the Zero was produced in greater numbers than any other Japanese combat aircraft during the War not many examples of this legendary aircraft survived. Many were sacrificed as Kamikaze suicide attack aircrafts ( 神風特攻隊 ) in the closing months of WWII. Only a handful escaped destruction and were preserved, some having been dredged up from beneath the sea or salvaged from tropical forests in the Pacific Theatre from their crash sites and carefully restored, sometimes with parts from different aircrafts. The only Zero with its original Sakae radial engine still in flying condition is in private collection in California.

Numerous books had been written about the Zero, but the most notable has to be the two books co-authored and authored by Horikoshi Jiro himself. In 1956 he co-wrote the book Reisen with Okumiya Masatake, a general in the JASDF and a former naval commander who had led Zero fighters during the War. It was published in the US that same year as Zero: The Story of Japan's Air War in the Pacific. His memoirs on the development of the Zero was published in Japan in 1970 and was translated and published in English in 1981 as Eagles of Mitsubishi : The Story of the Zero Fighter.

Reisen by Okumiya and Horikoshi.

The memoirs of Horikoshi Jiro.

Lastly, how could I be so sure that the iconic Zero still rules Japan more than 70 years after the end of WWII? Just consider this : Japanese plastic model maker Tamiya alone lists 13 different types of the Zero fighter of various scale on its website. I didn't even bother to check on Hasegawa, Fujimi and Aoshima Models. And then there was also another full length movie Eien no Zero ( 永遠の0 ), also known as The Eternal Zero adapted from the book of the same name and released in 2014 ..... but that could be for another article.

Various Zero scale models available from Tamiya.
The Eternal Zero French movie poster. Image IMDb

The Eternal Zero English movie poster. Image

The Eternal Zero clips and song in English :

Finally, try to beat this : the only air worthy Zero in Japan overflew the
quake damaged Kumamoto City on 31st May 2016,
sporting Kumamon next to the Rising Sun Roundel beneath the wings.
Kumamon, or Bear Monster is the official mascot of Kumamoto.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

No F-35 For Singapore ... For Now .. And What's The Deal With Guam?

F-35B of the 501st Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron ( VMFAT-501 ),
 MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina.
Photo taken on 19th Mar 2015 Lockheed Martin  

State Dinner : What's On The Menu?

At the invitation of the President of the United States Barack Obama, Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong made an official visit to the US to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations and to further enhance the bilateral strategic partnership that the two countries had enjoyed so far. The state visit had taken place from 31 July to 5th August 2016. The two leaders had many things to discuss, from boosting trade and commerce links to strengthening people-to-people ties through exchange scholarships and implementation of trusted traveler programs, addressing regional and global challenges including climate change, global terrorism, freedom of navigation, and last but not least, enhancing security and defense cooperation.

Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong and President Obama at the White House
 2nd Aug 2016. Photo : US Embassy

A state dinner at the White House was also hosted in Singapore's honor on 2nd Aug 2016, the 11th so far by the Obama Administration in his eight years in office. Singapore was the fifth Asian country to receive this honor, after India, China, Japan and South Korea. During the black tie event attended by 200 prominent guests including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. PM Lee returned the honor by unveiling a Singapore cultivated orchid hybrid named after the US President and the First Lady, Dendrobium Barack and Michelle Obama, to mark the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations. It is a cross between a hybrid native to Hawaii where Mr. Obama was born, the D. Pink Lips, and a Singapore hybrid known as D. Sunplaza Park.

The Dendrobium Barack and Michelle Obama
( D. Pink Lips x D. Sun Plaza )
 is a robust and free flowering orchid hybrid named in the honor of
the POTUS and the First Lady celebrating 50 years of
bilateral relations between the US and Singapore.
Photo : MCI via Straits Times

With bilateral ties at an all time high, as they should be, and knowing that Singapore has been interested in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the longest time yet is always in no hurry to make the final decision, the question that many will ask is, was the F-35 on the State Dinner menu? Could a possible F-35 foreign military sale ( FMS ) to Singapore be Obama's last hurrah in his lame duck period?

As usual, some background information to provide the reader with the right perspective is always appropriate.

State Dinner Menu 2nd Aug 2016 :
Maryland Blue Crab, American Wagyu Beef, Local Tomato Salad
and Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter?!
Original Image Singapore Embassy in Washington DC

US and Singapore : 50 Years of Diplomatic Relations And More

Fifty one years ago, on 9th Aug 1965, the tiny South East Asian nation of Singapore was born in anguish, having been unceremoniously kicked out of the Federation of Malaysia like an unwanted child. Before that, it had been a British crown colony since 1819, until it achieved self-governance in 1959 and subsequently joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963.

As a small island nation without natural resources and at that time surrounded by potentially hostile neighbours, Singapore needed friends, and fast. Friends whom it could learn from, trade with, garner political support and who could lend a helping hand when it was needed. It was a matter of survival.

And among the first few countries to recognize Singapore as a sovereign country after it declared its independence from the Federation of Malaysia was the good old United States of America under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Official recognition came on 11th Aug 1965 in a letter from Secretary of State Dean Rusk to Singaporean Foreign Minister Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, essentially the day after independence, taking into consideration that the US lies across the International Date Line on the other side of the Pacific.

The establishment of diplomatic relations and the American embassy came the following year, on 4th April 1966, with Richard H Donald as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim. The rest that followed, was half a century of ever deepening friendship and thrust, of mutual understanding, respect and admiration.

US - Singapore Diplomatic Relations 50th Anniversary. Source : US Embassy

Informal relations between the United States and Singapore had began even earlier, way back in the 19th century when US merchants engaged in the China trade began to visit the port on their way to and from China. As Singapore became one of the most important ports in the region, US-Singaporean interaction increased and the first American representative to Singapore, Joseph Balestier ( 1788 - 1858 ) was appointed on 4th July 1836 when the US established a consulate. He was a merchant and plantation owner whose wife Maria was the daughter of Paul Revere, silversmith, industrialist and Patriot in the American Revolution of the midnight ride fame. Their legacy endures in Singapore today, with an entire neighborhood, a high school and road named after Balestier. A beautiful church bell made in the foundry of her father was donated by Maria Balestier to the St Andrew's Church once signaled the evening curfew now rests in the Singapore History Gallery of the National Museum. It is the only Revere bell outside the United States.

The Revere Bell at the National Museum of Singapore.
Inscription reads : Revere, Boston 1843.
Presented to St Andrew's Church, Singapore,
by Mrs Maria Revere Balestier of Boston,
United States of America. Photo : Wikipedia

Today, the US is the biggest source of foreign direct investment in Singapore. Over 3700 US companies are located in Singapore and a growing number of Singapore companies are establishing themselves in the US. The US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, the first such US agreement in Asia and now in its twelve year is a reference agreement that has shaped subsequent bilateral and multilateral FTAs in the region, including the high profile Trans-Pacific Partnership ( TPP ). Students from both countries study at each other's schools from elementary to post-graduate levels and beyond. The Singapore Armed Forces stations and trains approximately 1000 of its personnel annually in the US. Similarly, the US regularly deploys aircrafts and ships on a rotational basis to Singapore, contributing to the stability of the Asian Pacific region.  


The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program

The US$379 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter ( JSF ) program is without doubt the world's most expensive weapons program. It aims to produce a 5th generation multirole stealth fighter in three variants to replace a whole host of legacy fighters and attack aircrafts in the United States Air Force ( USAF ), United States Navy ( USN ), the United States Marine Corps ( USMC ) and some of its closest allies. The program's international partners includes the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey. Israel and Singapore are Security Cooperative Participants.

Apart from the United States, the F-35 to date has orders from eleven countries, including eight international partners and three foreign military sales to Israel, Japan and South Korea.

JSF Logo. Lockheed Martin.

The JSF program was highly controversial due to the multiple setbacks it encountered during its development, long delays and huge cost overruns. Early adopters saw the unit cost increase from an initial estimate of US$50 million per aircraft to more than $150 million, causing some to cut procurement numbers or postpone their purchase, which in turn leads to more upward pressure for the unit price. It is therefore the interest of the US as well as the F-35's vendor, Lockheed Martin, to secure as many orders as possible in order to bring down the unit cost of the volume production F-35 to a targeted $85 million by 2019.

This can be achieved by enticing the early adopters to exercise their options for additional aircrafts, place follow-on orders ( like Israel ), and by convincing those potential customers who are still undecided to finally take the plunge ( like Singapore ). The best way to do it is to demonstrate that the F-35 works as or better than advertised and ironically, a drastic price cut itself!

So did Obama attempt to get Singapore to commit itself to a squadron of F-35s? I'm sure he did. I would if I were Obama. After all, the Americans really have nothing to lose by asking and a whole lot to gain if Singapore had said yes.

Listed below are some of the reasons why the time might now be mostly right for Singapore to finally own a couple of these stealth fighters.

The Only Western Stealth Fighter In Production

With the production of the F-22 Raptor permanently shutdown, the reality is that the F-35 currently is the only stealth fighter in production and available for export in the Western World. The F-22 was never cleared for export to any country, ever. So, unless you are a partner in Russia's PAK-FA stealth fighter program like India or are researching your own design like Japan and its Mitsubishi X-2 technological demonstrator, or plan to wait for China's FC-31 to be made available for export, you really have no other stealthy options apart from the A, B and C variants of the F-35. Like they say, simple as ABC.

How to tell them apart physically? The F-35A conventional take-off and landing ( CTOL ) version for the USAF has a bulge over the left upper fuselage from its internal 25mm Gatling gun and a boom receptacle for aerial refueling at its dorsal area, two unique features which the other versions lack. The F-35B short take-off and vertical landing ( STOVL ) version for the USMC meanwhile has a bulge behind the canopy to house the huge lift fan which also has distinctive panel lines. The F-35C catapult assisted take-off barrier arrested recovery ( CATOBAR ) version for the USN has a wingspan 8 feet longer than the other versions, a tailhook assembly and a double wheeled forward landing gear.

From left to right the C, B and A variants of the F-35 JSF at Edwards AFB,
California. Photo taken on 28th Feb 2014 Lockheed Martin

Security Cooperative Participant Forever? 

On 16th Mar 2004 Singapore signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance ( LOA ) to became a Security Cooperative Participant ( SCP ) of the System Development and Demonstration Phase ( SDD ) of the JSF Program, the only Asian country to do so. It followed the signing of a Letter of Intent in Feb 2003 which laid down the broad principles for the SCP arrangement. And that seems like a looooong time ago, at least by aircraft standards. For $10 million, being a SCP allows a country to be able to have early access to proprietary information, including flight simulators. It allows early evaluation of the ability of the F-35 to meet the country's long term operational requirements for a stealth fighter. The SCP member country will have insights into the JSF’s development progress and be able to conduct studies for integration of its requirements into the JSF. It will also have the privilege of requesting for early purchase of the F-35 with deliveries from 2012 onwards. Of course those dates slipped badly and many partner countries are just beginning to receive their first F-35 this year. Now one wouldn't spend that kind of money unless seriously interested in the aircraft in question, right? The only other SCP of the JSF Program, Israel, had already put in an initial order for 33 F-35I Adir and possibly a follow-on order of another 17. If it is good enough for the Israeli Defense Force ( IDF ), it is good enough for the Singapore Armed Forces ( SAF ) ... well not exactly, but the two countries do have a long history of military cooperation and share many similar platforms and systems. That said, endorsement by the IDF does carry weight, in fact a lot of weight. The SAF had more than twelve years to do due diligence as a SCP, and SDD Phase which started in 2001 and originally projected to last for 10 years is already in its final stages and scheduled to end in 2017. Time to make a decision.

Roll out of the Israeli Air Force's first F-35I Adir ( CTOL ) at LM's
Fort Worth facilities 22nd Jun 2016. In the cockpit is Israel's
Minister for Defense Avigdor Liberman who could not stop grinning!
 Photo : Lockheed Martin

Maintaining Qualitative Lead

Singapore being a land scarce and resource poor country without any strategic depth has always looked to a doctrine of maintaining a qualitative edge against its regional peers to overcome these inherent disadvantages. Over the past few decades, the RSAF has seen its traditional lead over its rivals shrink dramatically with the introduction of Russian Su-27 / Su-30 Flanker family multirole fighters in the region. Both Indonesia and Malaysia have been operating these lethal fighters for several years. In addition, Indonesia is in advance negotiation with Russia to acquire eight Su-35 Super Flankers. Further away, both Vietnam and China have large Flanker fleets, with China already committed to buying 24 Su-35 with the first 4 deliveries expected this year. The RSAF's F-16C/D and F-15SG will find it challenging to match the superior performance of these advance Flankers. Hence, the impending introduction of the all new Su-35 as well as the continued threats from existing Flanker types might just be the catalyst to induce Singapore to finally stop mulling about the F-35 and actually buy it.

The Sukhoi Su-35S Super Flanker of the Russian Air Force.
Credit on Photo.

The Su-35 could carry a total of twelve air-to-air missiles.
The aft centerline pylon is empty in this photo. Credit on Image.

New Capability : Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing

Whoever said that the F-35 acquisition had to be a replacement for an obsolete aircraft type? Of course ageing aircrafts have to be replaced in a timely manner so as to avoid any possible capability gaps from occurring during the transition. Right now the 27 F-5S and 9 F5Ts already have their days numbered. But how about getting a squadron of the short take-off and vertical landing ( STOVL ) F-35B as a new capability for the RSAF? The F-35B is currently the only modern fighter aircraft in production that has STOVL capabilities.

The proliferation of advance long range saturation rocket artillery systems like the Avibras ASTROS II within the regional armies of Malaysia and now Indonesia meant that there could always be a threat that Singapore's airbases and runways could be targeted from outside its boundaries during outbreaks of hostilities. Having even a small number of STOVL capable fighters dispersed in various well concealed locations will ensure at least some aerial defense and retaliatory options while runway operations are temporarily disrupted.

In addition, should the Navy eventually replace its four Endurance-class Landing Platform Dock with the Joint Multi-Mission Vessel ( JMMS ) which is essentially a helicopter carrier, it would not be inconceivable to build them large enough to accommodate the F-35B, although it could be at the expense of a reduced shore projection capability. That would provide serious close air support to any amphibious landing force and top cover for the naval task force.

F-35B performing a vertical landing during Developmental Test Phase II
 onboard USS Wasp on 15th Aug 2013. Photo : Lockheed Martin

F-35B performing a short take-off during Developmental Test Phase II
 onboard USS Wasp on 15th Aug 2013. Photo : Lockheed Martin

The F-35 Program Has Matured

As a whole, the F-35 Program has made significant progress especially in the past few years. Although still far from complete, many milestones have been achieved. But the ultimate milestone would be the attainment of the Initial Operational Capability ( IOC ). The F-35B of the USMC was the first to declare operational on 31st Jul 2015. Slightly more than a week ago on 2nd Aug 2016, the USAF also declared that the F-35A is combat ready. We are now left with the Navy's F-35C which will be projected to achieve IOC sometime between Aug 2018 and Feb 2019.

Since nobody except the US intends to buy the F-35C, as far as export customers are concerned, the F-35 can be considered combat ready.

Singapore's Minister for Defense Dr Ng Eng Hen had expressed satisfaction that the JSF Program is progressing well when he visited the F-35 Academic Training Center at Luke Air Force Base and received a briefing on the F-35's capabilities from the 61st Fighter Squadron in Dec 2015. Over the years, he had witnessed the hangars at the air base gradually fill up with F-35 fighters. He could also see the F-35 chalking up on sortie numbers and flight hours. From Dec 2006 to May 2016, the F-35 fleet has a combined total of nearly 60000 flight hours. By Oct 2015, 162 F-35s had been delivered to the Department of Defense ( DOD ), inclusive of the 20 SDD test aircrafts. Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth facility is now churning out Low Rate Initial Production ( LRIP ) Lot 8 aircrafts. There will be at least another three lots of LRIP till Lot 11. The more mature a program is, the less risk it would present to the countries who are adopting it. So the JSF program has more or less matured, though eight years later than initially projected.

Four F-35B and two F-35C ( rear ) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River,
 Maryland. Photo taken on 18th Feb 2012 Lockheed Martin.

The Unit Cost Is Dropping

After years of runaway escalation, the trend had finally reversed and unit cost of all three variants of the F-35 continues to drop a little year by year as Lockheed Martin has been able to reduce the number of labour hours required to produce an F-35 from 153000 hours per aircraft in 2011 down to 50000 hours by mid-2015, all thanks to efficiency gains and process improvements ( see photo of the EMAS below ). As a result, the unit cost of the cheapest and most commonly procured F-35A variant could fall to $80 to $85 million for an F-35 ordered in 2018 and delivered in 2020. At this price, the F-35A could even be cheaper than modernized versions of some high end legacy fighters. For comparison, Lockheed Martin's own F-16 V Viper is estimated to cost $60 million per copy, while Boeing's F-15SE Silent Eagle which has some stealth features like radar absorbent coating and conformal weapon bays can cost more than $120 million. Singapore's initial tranche of 12 F-15SG, ordered in Dec 2005, was estimated to cost about $1 billion. So the unit cost could be about $83 million or more, and that was more than a decade ago. A full-rate production Eurofighter Typhoon costs $119 million, the Rafale-B $98 million, the F/A-18E Super Hornet Block II $78 million and even the SAAB JAS-39C Gripen ( no AESA radar ) cost $69 million.

For FY2016 though, the unit cost of F-35A is $109.88 million, the F-35B at $121.33 million and the F-35C at $117.83 million, already on par with the F-15SE.

The Netherland's F-35A being lifted from the automated
Electronic Mate And Assembly System or EMAS.
Photo taken 9th Apr 2015 Lockheed Martin

The RSAF's M-346 Trainers Are F-35-Proofed

The twelve Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master lead-in to fighter trainers of the RSAF's 150 Squadron acquired in 2012 are specifically designed for helping trainee pilots transit from advance jet trainers to operational conversion with 5th generation jets like the F-35. They can simulate the flight characteristics of the F-35 and can even be used as companion trainers to reduce the need for pilots to fly the F-35 to maintain their combat readiness. They are F-35 and future-proofed. Their earlier acquisition fits into the grand scheme of possible F-35 buys down the road.

Singapore's Continued Interest In The F-35 Welcomed

In the joint statement released by the governments of the United States and Singapore after the meeting at the Oval Office between President Obama and PM Lee, it was mentioned that " President Obama welcomed Singapore’s continued interest in the F-35 aircraft. The two leaders expressed support to explore new training opportunities for the Singapore Armed Forces in Guam, with an eye toward a potential long-term training detachment for the Republic of Singapore Air Force. "

Since the late eighties, long term training detachments of the RSAF to the United States had always been associated with a Foreign Military Sale of some major platform, like the F-16 and the Peace Carvin II detachment to Luke Air Force Base ( AFB ), the F-15SG and the Peace Carvin V detachment to Mountain Home AFB, the CH-47D and the Peace Prairie detachment to Redmond Taylor Army Heliport ( AHP ), and the AH-64D and the Peace Vanguard detachment to Silverbell AHP. So is Singapore about to make another major arms acquisition?

Perhaps but it might not be what you are thinking about. There are currently three major training centers for the F-35, Eglin AFB in Florida where the Integrated Training Center trains F-35 pilots and maintainers, Luke AFB in Arizona and MCAS Beaufort in South Carolina. All foreign ( and many US ) pilots of the F-35A are currently being trained at Luke AFB where 6 squadrons ( 144 aircrafts ) of F-35As comprising a mix of USAF and pooled FMS assets will eventually be available. F-35B pilots are trained at Marine Corps Air Station ( MCAS ) Beaufort, home of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 ( VMFAT-501 ). This is also where UK and Italian F-35B pilots would receive their training.

Depending on the variant selected, a F-35A buy would probably mean another Peace detachment to Luke AFB while a F-35B buy would necessitate a detachment to MCAS Beaufort. There ain't no F-35 simulators on Guam!

Therefore, we know for sure that the F-35 was part of the agenda of that meeting, otherwise it would not have been referred to in the joint statement. Obama must have asked Singapore to consider buying the F-35, again. Unfortunately, despite the favourable factors for the F-35, the answer was no .... for now. Hence, the statement about continued interest.

Indeed, a news report by Bloomberg two days ago said that in Dec 2014 Singapore had submitted a letter of request to the US formally seeking information on the purchase of the F-35. It then followed up in early 2015 with indications that it wanted the STOVL F-35B variant, the most complicated model. The initial acquisition was intended to be for four aircrafts by 2022 with options for another 8 more. Earlier this year, the US even gave the approval for Singapore to integrate its own radio and datalink into the aircraft should it be purchased. However, for reasons yet not known, Singapore had informed the US in June this year that the purchase was now on hold.

You can see here what IHS Jane's had to say in this video published on 8th Aug 2016 on the F-35 and Singapore. The hovering / vertical landing F-35B seen at MCAS Beaufort has a RAF roundel and belongs to the UK, a first tier partner in the JSF Program. Some nice clips of the F-15SG and F-16C are included. The narration department has much to be desired, though.

Where In The World Is Guam?

Guam is a US Territory in the Northwestern Pacific.

Guam is the biggest island and the southernmost of the Marianas which also includes
Saipan and Tinian, all famous battlegrounds in the Pacific War.
The B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima launched from Tinian.

Guam is an American territory located in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. It is the largest and the southernmost of the Marianas Islands. Its strategic value lies in the fact that it is a US owned territory midway between Hawaii and Asia and therefore an important forward deployment, transit and logistic hub for the USAF and the USN, playing a key role in Obama's Rebalance to Asia. It has two major military bases - Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base, now managed together as Joint Region Marianas.

Joint Region Marianas Logo from its Twitter site.

Naval Base Guam at Apra Harbor, Santa Rita is the home of Submarine Squadron 15 made up of several Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarines. It is also the home port of many Pacific Fleet units and US Coast Guard units.

Andersen AFB on the other hand, is one of four bomber forward operating locations of the USAF, providing support to rotating forward deployed strategic bombers like the Boeing B-52H. Proximity to the naval bombing range at Farallon de Medinilla Island 296km north of Andersen and the vastness of the surrounding air space makes Guam an ideal training place for these huge aircrafts.

Beginning 2019, Guam will be receiving some 5000 marines and 1300 of their family members relocated from Okinawa, where the Okinawans had found them burdensome. The build up will continue to 2026. Only a third will be permanently based there while the rest will train there on a rotational and staggered basis. Many will be housed around the vicinity of Andersen AFB where some of the training ranges are also located.

B-52G of the 60th Bombardment Sqn, 43rd Strategic Wing dropping 500lb Mk82
high-drag bombs at the Farallon de Medinilla Island Bombing Range during
Ex Harvest Coconut 3rd Dec 1984. Photo USAF via Wikipedia

B-2 Spirit from Whiteman AFB deploy to Andersen AFB during
Ex Polar Lightning 12th Mar 2009. USAF Photo.

F/A-18D takes off at Andersen AFB with B-52H in the background
during Ex Valiant Shield 14th Sep 2014. USN Photo.

Aerial view of Apra Harbor where US Naval Base Guam is located
5th Mar 2016. Several warships can be seen berthed in the foreground. USN Photo. 

So What's The Deal With Guam?

The proposed long term training detachment of the RSAF to Guam probably has nothing to do with FMS this time. Its not the F-35 for sure. Its not the P-8 as the detachment should have gone to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, otherwise. I believe the motive for the detachment to Guam is far more mundane. It is most likely a relocation of the Peace Carvin II F-16 detachment at Luke AFB to a venue closer to Singapore.

The tail flash of a RSAF F-16 of the 425th Fighter Squadron marking the
20th anniversary of the Peace Carvin II detachment to Luke AFB,
28th Oct 2013. USAF Photo.

The Peace Carvin II detachment to Luke AFB was Singapore's first permanent training detachment to the US. It started in 1993 and marked its 20th anniversary in 2013. It is also Singapore's longest running foreign military training detachment. The contract for the program had been renewed several times and unless further renewed will expire in 2018.

With the F-16 gradually becoming obsolete and Luke AFB slowly transiting to become the premier F-35A training base just like it did with the F-16 35 years ago, it might not make a lot of sen$e to extend the Peace Carvin II program further. Even if Singapore had requested for an extension, the US may not necessary grant it this time as they focus on ramping up F-35A numbers and training at Luke AFB.

The Peace Carvin II Patch : Saguaro ( AZ ) and Blackwidow ( 425th ).

Bringing home the F-16 squadron doesn't sound appealing as Singapore lacks the air space for these fast jets to train and maneuver. Relocating the squadron to a USAF base somewhere else would be a better idea, since the F-16 pilots will continue to benefit from the training and exposure, especially with regards to large scale multi-national exercises like Ex Valiant Shield.

And when you look at the map, the nearest US air base to Singapore is Andersen AFB in Guam. Basing the F-16 in Guam has advantages apart from the vastness of the airspace and the proximity of the naval bombing range. The logistics will be easier and cheaper to handle and the aircrafts could be recalled back to Singapore much faster should the need ever arise. Andersen AFB is 4717km from Paya Lebar Air Base in Singapore which is just slightly more than the maximum ferry range of a Block 50/52 F-16 with external drop tanks. This distance is still far but much less formidable compared with the distance to the US.

We often forget how BIG the Pacific Ocean is and how far it is from America to Asia. From Andersen AFB to Hickham AFB in Hawaii is 6096km. Hickham to Luke AFB is another 4663km. The great circle distance from Paya Lebar Air Base to Luke AFB is 14606km. A previous recall exercise saw the F-16s hopping from one AFB to another across the Pacific, requiring six aerial refueling and six full days to complete the journey.

Geographical location of Guam and Singapore.

The 250 RSAF personnel and their family members of the training detachment hopefully will not be too much of a burden to the increasingly congested Guam Island as the Marines move in from Okinawa. But one thing is for sure. It will be a mini boost to the local economy for years to come, just like what the SAF brought to the Australian township of Rockhampton with its training at Shoalwater Bay, Queensland. Luke's loss will be Guam's gain.

B-1, B-52 and probably KC-135 at Andersen AFB 28th Feb 2006

C-5 Galaxy, B-2 Spirit and B-1 Lancer at Andersen AFB. 7th Jun 2006

Left to right Mitsubishi F-2 ( I think ), F-15, F-16 Aggressors, F-16 and probably EA-6B
plus E-2C, C-130 ( top ) and KC-135 ( bottom ) at Andersen AFB 18th Feb 2011

Hordes of B-52H at Andersen AFB 19th Jan 2016

Sun, Sand and Surf : Andersen AFB and Yigo Town. 7th Jun 2016

Sorry No Lame Duck F-35

It has been said by Mr Lee Hsien Loong during his state dinner toast remarks that much could be achieved even by lame duck presidents during their final months in office, like Bill Clinton and the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, signed after a midnight round of golf with then Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on a rainy night in Brunei during an APEC summit. For President Obama though, there will be no F-35 sale to Singapore for now to add to his legacy as the first black president of the United States. That honor will probably go to the next president, hopefully not Mr. Donald Duck who may be just lame from day one.

Indonesia and Malaysia would probably breathe sighs of relief knowing that Singapore had postponed the F-35 acquisition. But the delay will only be as long as needed. The restrain will go should more Flankers or advance air defense systems populate the region.  

POTUS Barack Obama giving a speech on 3rd Aug 2016. Photo : US Embassy 

President Obama and PM Lee on 4th Aug 2016, Obama's birthday.
Photo : US Embassy