Monday, September 21, 2015

F-35: An Expensive Joint Flop

Conservatives are very fond of talking about limiting government spending.  There are two problems with that meme: their greatest hero, Ronald Reagan, presided over one of the largest military buildups in modern peace time, and Repugnants never seem to include the Pentagon in their cost-cutting ideas. Currently the most expensive weapon procurement program ($1 trillion) is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It is wildly over budget and expected to cost $100 million per unit! Fifteen years of schedule delays due to mind-bending technological complexity have cost the program dearly.

The latest blow to the program's prestige is the finding from the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation that the F-35B aircraft used by the Marines in testing failed to achieve the required number of flight hours to be declared "combat-ready". In fact it declared the Marine trials "could not demonstrate that F-35B is operationally effective or suitable for use in any type of limited combat operation, or that it was ready for real-world operational deployments." In short the Marines rigged the testing aboard the USS Wasp so the jet would pass. Nevertheless the Marines are standing by the complicated and expensive aircraft that is designed to do everything well.

The US Air Force has already bought 28 F-35As and is expected to buy 44 more even though the fifth generation fighter is outfought in close combat maneuvering by fourth generation aircraft such as the F-15 or F-16.  It is also outclassed by the best Russian and Chinese jet fighters.  Air Force generals defend the fighter by saying it is meant to be a long-range weapons platform. Perspective can be gained on this claim by noting that the Air Force recently let out contracts to "re-wing" its aging, slow, but highly effective ground attack aircraft, the A-10 Warthog. The service previously insisted that the entire Warthog fleet would have to be ditched to pay for the F-35 which is also supposed to be able to do close air-support and bombing.  Perhaps the generals have never heard the old rubric, "Jack of all trades, master of none."

Allies who were expected to deploy the fighter--hence the name--are having second thoughts over its price tag. Canada wanted to replace its CF18 Super-Hornet fleet with the F-35 at a cost range of $17 to 45.9 billion. The rise in exchange rates has made the weapon even more expensive and Liberal politicians running for office are pledging not to buy it. Justin Trudeau promised Canadians that a Liberal government would buy a more affordable fighter. Canada has already invested hundreds of millions in the F-35 program without buying a single jet. The Conservative government announced plans to buy the F-35 without following a competitive process. The Dutch also got sticker shock when new estimates of cost recently arrived. The project will now cost the Netherlands €5.2 billion, 550 million more than previously estimated. It has already purchased the first eight jets of a projected 37, effecting a sort of procurement fait accompli. Australian officials witnessed a secret computerized war game conducted at Hickam Field, Hawaii in which F-35s were comprehensively beaten by Russian Sukhois. A Liberal politician described the simulated F-35s as "being clubbed like baby seals". Australia expects to pay $16 billion for supposedly the world's most advanced jet fighter--perhaps not. US Person would take right-wing politicians more seriously if they followed their own parsimonious rhetoric went it comes to their war-mongering.