There is a lot of controversy over the F-35JSF. Coming on the heels of the problems with the F-22 where the majority of the F-22 Raptor pilots refuse to fly it, the F-35, the new and improved Joint Strike Fighter, is not living up to its claims of being a stealthy aircraft. And its way over budget for an aircraft that was marketed as being able to use off the shelf parts.
The F-35, a fifth generation multirole aircraft, is tagged as a joint strike aircraft because its allegedly capable of being able to perform ground attack, reconnaissance, and air defense along with having stealth capability. There are three conceived models for the F-35, the F-35B, a short take-off and landing variant, the F-35C, a carrier based variant, and the original F-35.
The F-35 first took flight in 2006 but it took another 2 years to get the weight down to meet the DOD requirements. By 2009, 6 total aircraft had been built.
It gets better. USAF budget data in 2010, along with other sources, projected the F-35 to have a flyaway cost from $89 million to $200 million per plane over the planned production run. In February 2011, the Pentagon put a price of $207.6 million on each of the 32 aircraft to be acquired in FY2012, rising to $304.15 million. The cost has since jumped to $771 million and is now at $1.15 billion for 6 aircraft. The estimated engine costs are now between $16 million to $38 million.
In April of 2009, media reports, citing Pentagon sources, said that during 2007 and 2008, spies downloaded several terabytes of data related to the F-35’s design and electronics systems, potentially compromising the aircraft and aiding the development of defense systems against it. Lockheed Martin, the contractor for the F-35 project, rejected suggestions that the project was compromised, stating it “does not believe any classified information had been stolen”. Other sources suggested that the incident caused both hardware and software redesigns to be more resistant to cyber attack. (Does this sound at all familiar? Go back to the LCS topic and read how that vessel is susceptible to cyber attacks).
When this program is all complete, the US Military machine is projected to have spent over $1 trillion dollars. Considering all the issues with the aircraft, the lags in production, the slow development, the redesigning of specific systems that may or may not have been hacked or leaked, and the problems with the different variants, by the time this aircraft finally gets deployed, it will be out of date.
The US Navy faces other problems with their proposed version, the F-35C, carrier variant.
- The F-35 engine exceeds the weight capacity of traditional replenishment systems and generates more heat than previous engines.
- The stealthy skin requires new repair techniques; extensive skin damage will necessitate repairs at Lockheed’s land-based facilities.
- The adoption of volatile lithium-ion batteries and higher voltage systems than traditional fighters.
- Storing of new weapons not previously employed on carrier aircraft.
- Large quantities of classified data generated during missions shall require additional security.
Not only is there an potential issue of the aircraft being hacked, there is also the small problem as noted in this article in the Brisbane Times from Australia, another country that is looking at the F-35 as a potential option.
Here is an excerpt from that article:
“Twelve billion dollars is a big wad of the folding stuff to drop on whizz bangs,” John Birmingham wrote for the paper, “And $12 billion probably won’t come close to the final cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters both mainstream political parties are committed to buying.”
“I got ten bucks says it’ll be more like twice that amount, but you’ll have wait 30 or 40 years to collect. That’s how long these things will be in the air. Assuming they shed their habit of shedding bits and pieces of equipment and airframe at inconvenient moments,” Birmingham added. “Like when they’re in the air.”
The problem I see with a Joint Strike Fighter is that it can do all these tasks but it can’t do all these tasks well. Kind of a like a Jack of all Trades but a master of none. Maybe a better example is needed. We’ve all heard about or seen the dogs used for drugs, bombs and other items. Has anyone ever wondered why a bomb dog can’t be used as a drug dog? Its because the dog is trained to seek certain things like an explosive device. You don’t want to train a bomb dog to be a drug dog as they won’t do either job to the best of their ability. The same can be said for the F-35. It does all these tasks but it doesn’t excel at any one of them.
For more information about the F-35 project:
Boeing, another contractor, has provided the US Military with another option and a way to get away from the growing cost of the F-35.
With the issues the F-35 has, Boeing has a good concept. If that was taken a step further, Boeing’s idea coupled with the X-47 UCAS-D, the United States Military would be able to respond to any threat no matter how large or small and at a fraction of the cost of the F-35 program.
For more information on the F-35JSF: Google F-35 over budget and not stealthy.