F-35 Lightning II Program Troubles

Time’s always awesome Battleland has just run a fantastic article by Mark Thompson about the endlessly troubled F-35 program. As you will recall, the F-35 Lighting II is intended to be a stealthy, multirole fighter for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S Marine Corps. It is this attempt to be all things to (almost) all services that has held back the program, and perhaps even prevented the F-35 from ever becoming a useful fighter airplane.

Among other interesting tidbits of information in the article: The design blueprints for the aircraft are changed ten times every day of the week; the plane has a short range and the carriers it flies from will thus have to move dangerously close to enemy territory before they launch them; the 133,000 jobs currently tied to the F-35 program exist in no fewer forty-five of America’s states; the F-35 may not even outperform earlier aircraft in the U.S. arsenal, such as the F-15, F-16, or F-18, even though those planes are several decades older and less expensive; the bill for the projected 2,457 F-35’s to be procured by the U.S. will cost an eye-popping $396 billion, which is double the initial assessment when the program began; the three models of the F-35 now under development will be slower and less maneuverable than originally planned; the stealthy characteristics of the F-35, which have increased its costs and development problems, may not be of much use in evading air defenses after all in a world with better sensors and better computers; and the lifetime cost of maintaining the fleet of F-35’s is estimated be an astonishing $1.5 trillion.

After reading this article, which should be required reading for all American policymakers, I wonder if the United States has just spent a fortune developing the most advanced dirigible airship or sail-powered ship-of-the-line when the weapon type itself itself fading rapidly into obsolescence.

Marc DeSantis

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