Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Potential F-22 cancellation may hurt military avionics suppliers

Posted by John McHale

Well, after months of speculation in the media, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced his plans last week for restructuring of the Department of Defense (DOD) including cutting the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor program.

The decision not to produce any more F-22s may hit many in the military avionics and electronics industry in the gut especially at F-22 prime contractor Lockheed Martin. Reportedly Lockheed claims canceling this program would result in the loss of about 90,000 jobs.

I remember speaking to people from Lockheed in Ft. Worth, Texas, back when they won the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program and was told that people were crying with joy because the win would guarantee work for 30 to 40 years and mean they could send their children and grandchildren to college.

It hits every area of the community.

It won't just be Lockheed jobs that disappear, but many from the second and third tier suppliers that design avionics hardware and software for the F-22's advanced systems.

The loss of the F-22 will affect the companies that supply the mission computers, cockpit displays, real-time operating systems all the way down to the optical connectors.

These suppliers will still support the aircraft that have already been bought, but the loss of future orders will change their one, two, and five year outlooks drastically.

However, there will still be opportunities for designers of defense avionics and other electronics solutions. Gates says that the DOD will still support the JSF and increase funding for Special Forces operations to go after insurgents.

They are trying to restructure the military to better fight the War on Terror. Many in the current administration feel that the F-22 was designed to fight a more conventional type of war.

Therefore the DOD will still need electronics for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance more than ever before to help track down terrorists worldwide. This will come in the form of better communications and electro-optics capability for Special Forces, video and satellite surveillance technology, electronics for unmanned systems, etc.

Despite these opportunities, the loss of the F-22 will hurt, but we won't see how much for at least a year or two.

Some leaders in Congress reportedly protested the cut of the program claiming that cutting funding to help the warfighter is a mistake and only being done because the Obama administration wants to spend money anywhere else such as bailing out a failing General Motors.

I keep thinking of what Ronald Reagan said once during a debate with Jimmy Carter --that "a recession is when your neighbor loses his job, a depression is when you lose yours and recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."

Something tells me some folks at Lockheed might want to swap out Jimmy Carter for someone else right now...

You be the judge.

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