The F-35 Lightning II is not just the most expensive aircraft ever built. Costing in the general vicinity of $400 billion dollars or so, it is the most expensive weapon ever built – by far.
By how far? Well, the latest generation aircraft carrier – the Ford class, which is the first new design since the first of the Nimitz class carriers was commissioned in 1975 – is itself over-budget at $13 billion dollars per ship. In other words, for the money already spent on the F-35 project, you could purchase thirty of the newest, largest and most advanced aircraft carriers in the world.
Thirty aircraft carriers.
The jet has had some teething problems. Many of these problems could be categorized by a specific engineering concept. Pardon my jargon, but the problem as defined by the best aeronautical designers and engineers is that it doesn’t work.
Several weeks ago, I was disturbed, angered and not at all surprised to learn that the F-35C – the Navy variant of the one-size-fits-all lunacy that we have not seen since the flying-bus “fighter,” the F-111 – was causing the vast majority of pilots moderate to severe pain during the catapult shot. They had difficulty in reaching the controls and reading the instruments, both of which – airspeed, anyway – are handy things to have as you are hurled into the roiling waves a mere six stories above oblivion with the World’s Biggest Warship several yards behind you and bearing down on your splash point at 30 knots.
It looks like the entire ejection seat mechanism will have to be replaced for the Navy variant. You might have thought that with $400,000,000,000 in pocket change, Lockheed Martin might have thought this through just a wee bit better and perhaps discovered a severe and very dangerous design flaw while the aircraft was actually being shot into the sky.
Not too long ago, there was a huge stink when the F-35 was flown against the 70’s era workhorse it was designed to replace: the venerable F-16 Fighting Falcon, which Air Force guys call the Viper. In close-in dogfighting, the F-16 cleaned its clock.
Proponents of the F-35 claim that this is misleading. The F-35 has an extraordinary radar and sensor system that gives the F-35 an all-aspect capability. That means that unlike the F-16 and other legacy fighters, the F-35 does not need to be able to out-turn the Snake because it does not need to be behind the target in order to fire its air-to-air weapons. That off-aspect capability was the go-to argument for the jet and the entire program.
The Air Force currently has two main air-to-air missiles: the long-range, radar-guided AIM-120C AMRAAM, and the AIM-9X, the latest in the venerable line of short-range, heat-seeking missiles called the Sidewinder.
Recent tests not only revealed that the aircraft caused pilots severe pain on a cat shot. They have just revealed another problem – trifling, really: the Navy’s F-35 experienced “undisclosed” amounts of oscillation and turbulence when carrying the off-boresight Sidewinder. The outer wings fold up on the Navy variant of the Lightning II, and as it turns out, the F-35C will not be able to carry the off-aspect, fire-from-any-angle Sidewinder niner-xray.
And so they will have to replace the wing.
$400,000,000,000 later, we only now discover that the world’s most advanced jet is unable to carry externally the world’s most advanced short-range, air-to-air missile -- the technology that justified the F-35 in the first place – without building a new wing.
One begins to suspect that Lockheed Martin has some explaining to do.
This jet is so bad, and so expensive, and so late, that significant, stealthier upgrades to the existing workhorses: The F-15 Eagle, F-16 Falcon, F-18 Hornet and A-10 Warthog – are being hurriedly rolled out. The F-15 Silent Eagle and the F-18 Advanced Super Hornet are starting to look like sensible replacements for the F-35. They may also become indispensible replacements, since the new wing on the F-35, we just now discover, will delay the seven years overdue jet by another five years.
Here’s the final insult: because the F-35 is so far behind schedule, it will not be able to carry the latest generation of missiles: the AIM-120D and the improved Sidewinder 9X block II. Got it? The F-35 will have weapons inferior to those aircraft it was designed to replace; and not just in the air. The F-35 will not be able to carry more advanced air-to-ground bombs that can hit a truck while the truck is… you know… moving.
We have this debacle for one reason and one only: cost-plus procurement. This is an idea so insane that it has to come from the fatal combination of big government and big business. Cost-plus means the buyer – that would be you and me – pays for the cost of the jet, plus some set profit for the builder.
Those of you who do not work in government may perceive that this not only allows time and money overruns, it incentivizes them!
I want the best military and the most advanced weapons in the world. Cost-plus means that we have to scramble to find work-arounds for aircraft that do work – F-15, F-16, F-18 and A-10 – to cover the seventeen-year-old F-35 project that has sucked up enough money for 30 aircraft carriers that it is incapable of operating from.