Rabu, 4 Disember 2013

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The Star Online: World Updates

Pentagon focused on weapons, data fusion as F-35 nears combat use


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jet is making good progress as it nears initial combat use by the U.S. Marine Corps in July 2015, but the company must still finalise the software needed to deliver weapons and fuse data from its many sensors, the Pentagon's F-35 program chief told Reuters.

"Getting to 2015 there's a whole lot of things that have to be put in place, not the least of which is the software on the programme," said Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the Air Force three-star general who took over the helm of the $392 billion (£239 billion) F-35 programme around one year ago.

Software was the programme's No.1 critical issue, he said, noting that the jet alone had more than 8.5 million lines of code, while its related systems had 11 or 12 million more.

Officials have also launched an "earnest effort" to ensure that planes already built for the Air Force and Marine Corps are modified to adjust for issues found in flight testing so they are ready for initial combat use, Bogdan said.

The Air Force has said it plans to start using its conventional takeoff F-35 jets from mid-2016. The Navy will follow suit in late 2018.

Lockheed is building three models of the radar-evading warplane for the U.S. military and eight countries that helped fund its development: Britain, Canada, Norway, Australia, Turkey, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark. Japan and Israel have also ordered F-35 jets.

Bogdan told a defence logistics conference on Wednesday that the Pentagon's biggest weapons program - which is years behind schedule and 70 percent over initial cost estimates - had a "tragic past," but was now making good progress.

Bogdan said it was time to take "that baggage from the past and put it aside and judge the programme where it is today."

He said Lockheed is on track to deliver 36 jets this year, and the cost of the plane was coming down year after year. Flight testing was about 60 days behind schedule after two separate groundings early this year, but the delay could be absorbed by the margin built into the development program.

At Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on Wednesday, the programme hit a new single-day record of F-35 flights, flying 45 training missions with all three models of the new jet, said Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the F-35 program office.

The total included 32 flights with the Marine Corp's B-model, which can land like a helicopter, 10 flights with the conventional A-model, and three flights with the Navy's C-model, designed to land on aircraft carriers. In addition, one Dutch F-35 returned to Eglin from Maryland.

In an interview after his speech, Bogdan rejected criticism that the Pentagon is ploughing ahead blindly with a program that is too complex and expensive. He said the government knows "an awful lot" about the airplane and its cost and is doing better holding its manufacturers accountable for their performance.

Bogdan said critics of the F-35 focused on the programme's delays and technical shortfalls, but the U.S. military and its allies were growing more confident in the plane every day.

He said there was growing international interest in the new stealth fighter, and South Korea, Singapore and other countries could place orders in coming years. Such orders were good for all the countries involved because they would drive down the cost of each airplane and associated infrastructure, he said.

By some measure, including the F-35's ability to manoeuvre tight turns, the F-35 is on par or even slightly below that of current fighter planes, Bogdan said.

But the plane's ability to combine data from a host of different sensors and share it with other aircraft made it "a vastly superior airplane" than current warplanes, he said.

"What makes the airplane leaps and bounds better than legacy airplanes," he said, "is the ability to know what's going on around it when it comes to other airplanes and other threats, and its ability to take that information and give the pilot a very clear picture and then give that picture to a lot of other people who don't have the sophisticated sensors that we have."

He declined to give details since some of those attributes are classified, but said testing of the software that would provide the "360-degree situational awareness" was going well.

"Some of that stuff is in the classified realm, so people don't understand it and we can't talk freely about it," he said. "Until we get out there and prove that, people are going to be naturally hesitant because that is a leap above what we have today. It makes everybody in the battlespace smarter."

Bogdan said relations between the government and the prime contractors on the program - Lockheed and engine maker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp - had improved sharply since he became deputy director in July 2012.

Just over a year ago, Bogdan described that relationship as the "worst" he had ever seen in decades of working on acquisition programs.

Since then, the Pentagon had dramatically increased its oversight of the program and had become far more vigilant about holding the companies that build it accountable, he said.

But the F-35 program office and the contractors also communicate more often and more openly than before, he said.

"What we embarked on over the last 18 months is constant...'straight talk' with our contractor and our stakeholders," he said, noting that he had spoken three times on Wednesday alone with Lockheed's F-35 program manager, Lorraine Martin. "The communication between the program office and them is much more constructive now than destructive."

"The more we talk and the more we communicate, the more we understand each other's position, we can get past the blame game and get on to finding solutions for things," he said.

Bogdan said the Navy version of the new fighter was also making progress and testing of a redesigned tail hook that allows the plane to land on aircraft carriers would begin in coming months after completion of a critical design review.

(Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Matt Driskill)

Biden says China's airspace zone has caused apprehension


BEIJING (Reuters) - China's new air defence identification zone over the East China Sea has caused "significant" unease in the region, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday, adding he had stated Washington's firm objection to the move during talks in Beijing.

Biden had around five hours of discussions with President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, with both leaders laying out their perspective on an issue that has rattled East Asia. The zone, two thirds the size of Britain, covers an area that includes islands at the heart of a territorial dispute with Japan.

In response, China's Foreign Ministry said Biden had been told the zone accorded with international law and that the United States should respect it.

"China's recent and sudden announcement of the establishment of a new air defence identification zone has, to state the obvious, caused significant apprehension in the region," Biden told a gathering of U.S. executives in Beijing.

"I was very direct about our firm position and our expectations in my conversations with President Xi."

Beijing's announcement of the zone on November 23 has triggered protests from the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Under its rules, all aircraft have to report flight plans to Chinese authorities and maintain radio contact.

U.S., Japanese and South Korean military aircraft have breached the zone without informing Beijing. China's military has scrambled fighter jets on at least one occasion to monitor.

Japanese and South Korean commercial carriers have also been told by their governments to ignore the rules. Three U.S. airlines, acting on government advice, are notifying China of plans to transit the zone.

Xi took on board what Biden said, according to a senior U.S. administration official travelling with the vice president.

"From our perspective, it's up to China. And we'll see how things unfold in the coming days and weeks," said the official.

China has repeatedly said the zone was designed to reduce the risk of misunderstandings, and stressed that since it was set up there had been no issues with freedom of flight for civilian airlines.

"During the talks (with Biden) the Chinese side repeated its principled position, stressing that the Chinese move accorded with international law and practice and that the U.S. side ought to take an objective and fair attitude and respect it," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a brief statement.


The United States has made clear it will stand by treaty obligations that require it to defend the Japanese-controlled islands, but it is also reluctant to get dragged into any military clash between rivals Japan and China.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, speaking in Tokyo, rebuffed suggestions that Washington's decision not to publicly ask Beijing to rescind the zone meant the United States was out of sync with Japan.

Biden said Washington had an enormous interest in what happens in the region.

"The United States has a profound stake in what happens here because we need, and we are, and we will remain a Pacific power, diplomatically, economically and militarily," he said.

China's stake in regional stability would also continue to grow, Biden added.

"That's why China will bear increasing responsibility to contribute positively to peace and security. That means taking steps to reduce the risk of accidental conflict and miscalculation ... and refraining from taking steps that would increase tension," Biden said.

The official English-language China Daily said the two countries had to address a serious "trust deficit".

"The U.S.' reaction to the (zone) is only the latest reminder of how difficult it is for the two nations to overcome their distrust," it said in an editorial.

But the fact neither Biden nor Xi mentioned the zone in front of reporters on Wednesday was a positive sign that both are "indeed capable of managing their occasionally volatile ties", it noted.

Biden heads to South Korea later on Thursday, but will meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang before he leaves.

(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in TOKYO; Writing by Ben Blanchard. Editing by Dean Yates)

China says told Biden airspace decision in line with international law


BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that China told visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that Beijing's decision to set up an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea accorded with international law.

"During the talks the Chinese side repeated its principled position, stressing that the Chinese move accorded with international law and practice and that the U.S. side ought to take an objective and fair attitude and respect it," ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a brief statement.

(Reporting by Huang Yan, Hui Li and Ben Blanchard)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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