Endangered Species

The most threatened specialty in the defense industrial base is “manned fighter aircraft design,” said Fred Downey, Aerospace Industries Association vice president for national security, Wednesday. That’s because maintaining such design talent is expensive, and there are no new manned fighters in planning, let alone on the drawing board, he told attendees of his Wednesday talk sponsored by AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies in Arlington, Va. Much as companies would like to retain “military-unique” design and production capabilities, “our boards won’t let us, and our investors won’t let us” if there’s no market or no profit, said Downey in paraphrasing industry leaders’ comments. He said industry is most concerned about the evaporation of its skilled workforce, which is not easy to reconstitute. The Pentagon’s hopes to have “reversibility . . . if they made a bad decision” is “problematic at best,” asserted Downey. He also warned that the F-35 strike fighter may be “on the same path as the F-22,” where increased costs during tighter budget demand a reduction in the overall buy.