Ft. Worth, TX-In a winner-take-all decision from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) last week, a design team headed by Lockheed Martin captured the military's competition for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
The win over a Boeing-led group was for a program with a minimum value of $200 billion to build more than 3,000 aircraft over the next 25 years. Conventional takeoff versions of the plane will be made for the U.S. Air Force to replace F-16s and A-10s, starting around 2009. A larger-wing version for the U.S. Navy is tailored for carrier landing and longer-range operations. And a variant with a vertical thrusting lift-fan housed within folding doors behind the cockpit will be able to land vertically-thus being a replacement for the venerable Harrier jump-jet now used by the U.S. Marines and the British Royal Air Force and Navy.
While Design News will delve into the technical aspects of the winning design in a future issue, why was the Lockheed Martin entry selected over Boeing's? Perhaps the best person to answer that is Jerry Daniels, president and CEO of Boeing Military Aircraft and Missile systems. After a DoD debriefing earlier this week, he said, "Our design not only met, but exceeded the requirements...but the Lockheed Martin design exceeded them even more-and in key areas. Our A was not as good as Lockheed Martin's A-plus."
Daniels added he was told that Boeing scored higher in overall management and past performance, and tied in terms of affordability, although with more "risk factors" in that area. "Lockheed Martin consistently scored higher in air vehicle design," he added, albeit close in every area. "If I had to point to one factor, it would be the two companies' approaches to propulsion for the short takeoff and vertical landing. Lockheed Martin's lift-fan was judged to have better performance potential than our direct-lift system." The latter used engine air ducted to nozzles at the front of the aircraft (much like the Harrier), along with tilting down the aft exhaust flow, for vertical thrust. The Lockheed Martin approach uses a shaft driven by an engine-mounted power takeoff to drive, via a clutch, counter-rotating fans optimized for lift.
Other factors that may have played a part in the outcome include Lockheed Martin's demonstrator being more representative of an operational airplane. Boeing's demonstrator had a modified delta wing, while its operational design featured a separate horizontal tail-a change in configuration added too late to put on the demonstrator. But Boeing insisted all along that its simulations' validity, as proven with the demonstrator, would have guaranteed performance of the operational version-which may have been a hard sell to the judges. And whiles Boeings versions of the final airplane may have had more in common for reduced costs, Lockheed Martin's bigger wing naval version would likely have better carrier suitability for slower landing and over-the-nose visibility for pilots.
Michel Merluzeau, an aerospace and defense analyst for Frost and Sullivan, even goes as far as suggesting another factor was Boeing's business position in being better able to absorb the contract loss. "Lockheed Martin would not have been in a good position had the contract been awarded to Boeing, which is a more diversified and cash rich company."
And last but not least was the old aerospace saw that "If it looks right, it is right." The Lockheed Martin configuration was aesthetically more pleasing than Boeing's which, looking much like a gaping frog, had to be one of the ugliest airplanes to ever fly.