More good news, more bad news for F-35

Japan warns the U.S. over cost and schedule. The RAF's first pilot loves to fly it. Another day for the world's largest defense program.

The newest member of Club F-35 — Japan — is like the new person at work, immediately wanting to change how things are done, “improve” the office and make an impression right away.

Japanese officials only selected the F-35 back in December, but they’re already telling the U.S. to watch out for those cost increases and schedule slips, because if not, jets might get cancelled, see? Here’s how Reuters’ Rie Ishiguro put it in a story Wednesday:

The comments from Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura come after Japan’s Sankei newspaper cited unidentified U.S. government officials as saying that Japan had threatened that it may even cancel its orders if prices climbed. Japan picked the F-35 as its next mainstay fighter in December, choosing it over combat-proven but less stealthy rivals.

“When we were selecting the fighter, we asked those making the proposals to strictly observe their proposed prices and supply schedules. Japan has conveyed this to the U.S. from time to time,” Fujimura told a news conference.

The Pentagon last week confirmed plans to put off orders for 179 F-35s over the next five years to save $15.1 billion, a move that Lockheed executive vice president Tom Burbage told Reuters would increase the price of the plane somewhat.

Canadian officials have been told the price of their jets would increase by a nominal percentage amount “in the low single digits” as a result of the U.S. slowdown. Japan’s Defense Ministry has said each jet would cost 8.9 billion yen ($112 million), or 9.9 billion yen including spare parts. The ministry plans to buy 4 jets in the year beginning in April and 42 units eventually.

Silly Tokyo! Didn’t you know that scare headlines, price uncertainty and schedule wobbliness were part of the price of admission into this club?

But judging by another story Wednesday, the Japanese Self-Defense Force will find that it was worth it. Another international customer, Great Britain, sent its first military pilot to fly the F-35C on Tuesday, the U.S. Navy announced — and he loved it.

“The F-35 has the best handling of any jet I’ve flown, which means it’s going to be easier to land on a ship than current aircraft, and pilots can devote all of their attention to the mission,” Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Jim Schofield said in the announcement. “Combined with the world’s best sensors which allow the pilot to find and target anything that’s out there, and a stealthy signature, which means the enemy can’t do the same to you, this is exactly the aircraft the UK needs to provide the best protection for our soldiers, sailors and airmen for the next 35 years.”

Schofield will fly both a C and a B during his visit to Naval Air Station Pax River, the Navy said, and the RAF sounds very pleased.  You can take a look for yourself here.

No mention of the likelihood that the C might need its tailhook to be redesigned before it can catch an arresting wire at sea, but Lockheed officials seem to think they can take care of that before large numbers of airplanes enter services with the U.S. or Royal Navies.