Fail! The $400 Billion Military Jet That Can't Fly in Cloudy Weather
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According to one of its supporters, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is not "what our troops need," is "too costly" and "poorly managed," and its "present difficulties are too numerous to detail."
The F-35 is a case study of government failure at all levels - civilian and military, federal, state, local, even airport authority. Not one critical government agency is meeting its obligation to protect the people it presumably represents. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who wrote the F-35 critique above, is hardly unique as an illustration of how government fails, but he sees no alternative to failure.
Up for re-election in 2014 and long a supporter of basing the F-35 in Vermont, Leahy put those thoughts in a letter to a constituent made public March 13. This is Leahy's most recent public communication since December 2012, when he refused to meet with opponents of the F-35 and his web site listed a page of "public discussion" events mostly from the spring, including private briefings with public officials, without responding to any substantive issues.
The F-35 is a nuclear-capable weapon of mass destruction that was supposed to be the "fighter of the future" when it was undertaken in 2001. Now, more than a decade overdue and more than 100% over budget, the plane is expected to cost $1.5 trillion over its useful life, of which about $400 billion has already been spent.
100th F-35 Being Built, None Yet Operational
In January, the Lockheed Martin production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, reported it was well along "in the final phase of building the wings" of the 100th F-35 constructed by the Bethesda, Maryland, company. Of the first 99 F-35s, none are yet operational.
The F-35 isn't even close to fully operational - it can fly only on sunny days. It can't fly at night. And it can't fly in clouds or near lightning. We know this because the Pentagon tells us so, in a report written for the Secretary of Defense by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, J. Michael Gilmore, dated February 15, 2013.
Although some media hyped the report as a "leaked document," Gilmore clearly expected the report would become public, since he included a description of its wide distribution within the government, concluding with the reminder: "By law, I must provide Congress with any test-related material it requests."
By March 5, Gilmore's report was on the internet and giving the Canadian government second thoughts about buying the plane at all. Of the ten other countries partnering in F-35 development, Italy has already reduced the number of plane it will eventually buy. Norway, Turkey, and others are also having second thoughts – as is even the United States. Leahy indicates in his letter that "the jet is too costly to proceed with purchases at today's planned levels," which are about 2,400 planes at a currently projected cost of $120 billion each, give or take $30 billion.
Gilmore's report covers the F-35 training program at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for two months in the fall of 2012, a program originally scheduled to begin in August 2011, but the F-35 wasn't ready then. Even a year later, the training program "was limited by the current restrictions of the aircraft." The program partially trained 4 pilots in 46 days.
If the Pilot Can Eject, He'll Be Lucky Not to Drown
The report's executive summary gives a sense of what some of the "current restrictions" of the F-35 are:
- Aircraft operating limitations prohibit flying the aircraft at night or in instrument meteorological conditions, hence pilots must avoid clouds and other weather. These restrictions are in place because testing has not been completed to certify the aircraft for night and instrument flight.
- The aircraft also is currently prohibited from flying close formation, aerobatics, and stalls, all of which would normally be in the familiarization phase of transition training?.
- The F-35A does not yet have the capability to train in these phases, nor any actual combat capability, because it is still early in system development.
- Also, little can be learned from evaluating training in a system this immature?.
- The radar, the pilot's helmet-mounted display (HMD), and the cockpit interfaces for controlling the radios and navigational functions should be improved.
The report also notes that the pilot escape system is not yet reliable, especially if a pilot were to eject over water.