On Sunday, 60 Minutes ran a story about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter entitled, “Is the F-35 Worth It?” But watching the piece, I saw no debate whatsoever of that very important question.
And for good reason. All the interview subjects were government employees or contractors. They’d have been crazy to criticize their own program.
What I did see on Sunday was an ill-informed reporter—David Martin—touring the military side of the $400-billion F-35 program … and throwing in just a few boilerplate questions.
These questions were softballs, considering how big of a blunder this program actually has been. The F-35 is meant to replace 2,400 existing warplanes in the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. Complex and badly compromised by the need to meet all the military branches’ diverse needs, the JSF is overpriced, unreliable and sluggish.
60 Minutes mentioned that the F-35 is behind schedule and over budget, has some bad lighting and unsatisfactory tires … and that’s about it. Those gripes barely scratch the surface of the JSF boondoggle.
Was the producer of this segment actually a vice president over at Lockheed Martin, which makes the ostensibly radar-evading plane? All kidding aside, it looked like reporter Martin was having a blast playing with million-dollar gadgetry and brushing shoulders with military brass and test pilots.
But where was the long list of design and quality-control issues with the aircraft, 12 years after development began? What about discussing the many alternatives to this under-performing machine, such as F-22s and drones plus rebuilt F-15s, F-16s and F/A-18s? Why not point out how many experts in the defense journalism and analysis worlds see the JSF program as detracting from America’s security rather than enhancing it?
And how could 60 Minutes have not sought the opinion of someone—anyone—who is not receiving a paycheck from the F-35 program? The widely-seen spot included no third-party aerospace or defense experts and cited not a single independent study.
Martin mainly asked the same questions a child would have asked. Program officials put the F-35’s badly flawed special helmet on Martin’s head in a dark hangar and let him look around at the projected infrared image. He was mesmerized—and quickly moved past the uncomfortable fact that the helmet doesn’t actually work in combat conditions!
Then came the worst part—the finale of the whole piece, the “hard-hitting” statement that none of the JSF’s issues really matter because we are going to buy potentially thousands of the aircraft no matter how good or relevant they may be.
Cool fighter pilot guys with beaming grins and dressed like Maverick from Top Gun, a no-nonsense Marine and a bureaucrat characterized as a staunch defender of your tax dollars—all of 60 Minutes’ on-camera sources said the F-35 is just great and everything will work out fine!
No kidding. They’re all military officers, contractors or government workers. Again, 60 Minutes did not include any outside sources—only people with a vested interest in praising the world’s worst new jet fighter.
60 Minutes told the entire country that no matter what happens with ongoing testing, timelines, technological developments or costs, we will buy the F-35 in large numbers. So who really cares about this topic anymore anyway, right?