F-35 “The $ 1 Trillion Swiss Army Knife”
“NEW YORK TIMES”
“2,400 planes are planned by the late 2030s — projected total costs will exceed $1 trillion.
One billion dollars will be needed just to pay for the highly advanced pilot helmets, running to $400,000 apiece.
It breaks with the past by meeting the requirements of three military branches — the Air Force, Navy and Marines — each of which traditionally developed its own planes. Three in one. Swiss Army knife. Jack-of-all-trades. These are some of the labels attached to the F-35.
And though champions of the supersonic F-35 hail it as the ultimate sky fighter for the 21st century, skeptics ask if it is worth all the money and effort, or even if it will prove as effective in its mission as David’s little stone was in its day.
To put it mildly, the Joint Strike Fighter is a complex piece of machinery. History suggests that the more intricate a device is, the more ways there are for things to go wrong. Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan, the Air Force officer in charge of F-35 development, stands firmly by the program, but he acknowledged to Retro Report that the plane’s initial design may have been overambitious and thus trouble prone.
Red flags went up even before the Pentagon awarded the contract to Lockheed Martin in October 2001. The Government Accountability Office, Congress’s research arm then known as the General Accounting Office, cautioned that assorted technological problems raised the specter of cost overruns, performance failures and production delays. All those fears were borne out. The project is seven years behind schedule, costs have soared, and eyebrows arched higher after a prototype was outmaneuvered by an older F-16 in a mock dogfight early last year.
Lockheed Martin and the F-35’s supporters within the military respond that the whole point of the stealth technology is to enable pilots to slip through enemy defenses undetected, fire on ground targets and make a getaway before the other side can figure out what happened. No fuss, no muss — and certainly no dogfight. But, as usual whenever a better mouse comes along, someone is bound to devise a better mousetrap. Improved radar and infrared sensors, some experts say, may make these planes not quite as clandestine as hoped for.
Not that anyone ever claimed stealth engineering was equivalent to an invisibility cloak out of “Harry Potter.” “The reality is that there’s no such thing as absolute stealth,” Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, a former Air Force chief of staff who retired in 2012, told Retro Report. That much was made painfully clear in 1999 when Serbian ground fire brought down an F-117 Nighthawk, an American stealth fighter. It did not appear to be a lucky shot. The plane had been spotted.
The real objective is not invisibility but minimizing a plane’s footprint in the sky — its radar cross section — so that it can seem no bigger to monitoring systems than, say, a golf ball. The plane is coated with nonmetallic materials that absorb radar waves. Smooth curves and other design elements can also redirect those waves. Essential features that might be dead giveaways, like the weaponry, are tucked inside the aircraft. Engines are cooled to reduce their thermal signature.
As the video points out, stealth technology entered public consciousness at the start of the 1980s. Perhaps no plane became more instantly recognizable than the B-2 Spirit, a sleek, dark and tail-less bomber that looked like something Batman might have at the ready. The F-35 is the most recent addition to the United States fleet, and it is intended principally to attack targets on the ground, not to engage in air-to-air combat.
As much as 80 percent of its parts are the same for all three services, including engines, fuselage, weapons and supersonic capability. Each branch, however, will have its own variant: a conventional takeoff and landing version for the Air Force, a model that can perform short takeoffs and landings on Navy aircraft carriers, and a helicopter-like design that makes possible the vertical landings desired by the Marines.
Having the services share most of the technology was meant to be a big money saver. But harsh realities intruded, in part because it is complicated, not to mention expensive, to give each branch what it wants. To help defray expenses, the United States has signed up eight other countries as paying partners. But at least one of them, Canada, may be rethinking its commitment. The recently elected prime minister, Justin Trudeau, promised during his campaign to pull out of the program, though he has yet to act on that pledge. A Canadian withdrawal, still not a certainty, would increase the costs for everyone else.
Budgetary worries are such that Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has dismissed the plan for 2,400 planes as unrealistic. “The number they are now quoting — there’s just not going to be that many,” Mr. McCain said in late October.
For others, there is also the fact that the F-35, as an all-purpose workhorse, is intended to replace a flock of warplanes that are aging but have proved worthy, including the F-16, the A-10 attack plane and the AV-8B Harrier. The plan to retire the A-10 in particular is being delayed for at least a year, in good measure because of resistance in Congress.
Others have their own doubts about putting the old-timers out to pasture. They include War Is Boring, a website that often casts a jaundiced eye on military decisions. Skeptical about the F-35’s capabilities, it has suggested that it is a mistake for the Pentagon to bet pretty much everything on this one fighter.
Even David understood that it would be unwise to take on Goliath with only one projectile in his arsenal. The Bible says he first picked out five smooth stones from a brook. Plainly, he understood the importance of having a backup system.”
Originally published at rosecoveredglasses.wordpress.com on January 29, 2016.