If you thought that canceling the White House tours in order to save the Federal Government $74,000 per week was desperate, what do you think about the $40 billion that we have already spent on a ‘state of the art’ fighter plane that was designed by an international committee and can’t fly!
The development of the latest US fighter planes over the last several decades has been one of the most costly examples of bad military spending in US history. In these days of fiscal crisis and sequestration, the story of the $120 billion development fiasco of the the F-22 and F-35 jet fighter plane is particularly egregious. The F-22 was less than expected, and in a recent report from the US Department of Defense, leaked to the public last week, the F-35 was considered unfit to fly. The report, called “F-35A Joint Strike Fighter: Readiness for Training Operational Utility Evaluation,” was released by the Office of the Secretary of the in February 2013, and a declassified version was posted on March 6, 2013.
Three reasons stand out for this colossal and costly fiasco:
1. The decisions to move forward with the development of these two fighter jets have been political, not military;
2. The idea that a fighter jet can be designed by committee in order to accommodate bad foreign policy in a ‘global economy’ is patently absurd; and
3. In order to placate Muslim (particularly Turkish) objections, the one country whose technological expertise and experience in building what are arguably the best equipped fighter jets in the world – Israel – was shut out of all development.
The F-22 Raptor entered the fleet of the US Air Force in December 2005. A product of Lockheed-Martin aircraft, it was reputed to be the best overall fighter in the world. It was characterized by its supposed stealth, speed, agility, precision and situational awareness, combined with air-to-air and air-to-ground combat capabilities. However,the aircraft’s stiff price tag, cost overruns, development and production delays, a Congressional ban on Raptor exports, and the ongoing development of the F-35 which was considered more versatile, resulted in demands that F-22 production be ended. Production was halted on December 13, 2011.
In the summer of 2012, at the international Red Flag Alaska training exercise where the planes were matched against Australian, German, Japanese, Polish and [NATO] aircraft, the “most advanced stealth fighter jet in history, the F-22 Raptor” proved that while the plane excels at modern long-range air combat, it is only “evenly matched” with cheaper, foreign jets when it comes to old-fashioned dogfights.
In the meantime, back in October 2001, Lockheed Martin won the contract to the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter to replace the F-16, A-10, F/A-18, and AV-8B tactical fighter aircraft. The government planned to buy a total of 2,443 aircraft for an estimated US$200 billion. The purchase was to provide the centerpiece of the US armed services tactical air power to the US military.
According to the DOD report, the F-35 was intended to be a “multi-service, multi-national program consisting of a single-seat, single-engine aircraft built in three distinctly different variants intended to perform a wide array of missions to meet an advanced threat (year 2010 and beyond). The variants include a conventional take-off configuration (F-35A), a short take-off/vertical landing configuration (F-35B), and an aircraft carrier-compatible configuration (F-35C). “The international market included Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, and Turkey, who were invited to join in the development program. The aircraft was also to be sold to Singapore, Japan, and Israel, although they were not invited to participate in its development.
Ironically, the same optics, avionics, and software packages that have kept the F-15, F-16, and F-18 Hornets as well as the Apache and Cobra helicopters flying long after their ‘sell-by’ date of 1984, could have easily been applied to the F-22 and F-35 projects. However, in the interest of appeasing Islamic sensibilities, because these technologies were developed by Israeli companies such as Elbit, Elisra, and Raphael, they were not consulted and their technology was not utilized.Instead, the F-35 was designed by a committee of manufacturers from the US, Canada, and Europe.
As a possible result, the F-35s now represent such a danger to pilots that according to the leaked report , they are not even fit for training purposes. A comparison between the 1960s designed F-16, which Israeli technology has continually upgraded since 1984, and the F-22 and F-35, which have failed to meet their promised potential, demonstrates how using the best technological advances can – in the case of the F-16, they have enabled it to maintain its well-earned reputation as the finest fighter jet in the world – still. The US has employed all of these Israeli modifications into their entire fleet. Until the development of the F-22, when Israel was cut out of the development loop.
The fact that Congress and not the military made the decision to develop the F-35, that the program used a committee approach to the F-35′s development, that the development team relied on computer models to make key decisions in the final design before flight testing, and that the lack of Israeli know-how in critical areas, all contributed to the failure of the F-35 project. It failed to meet even minimum performance standards although billions of dollars were thrown at the project. Complications during the development included huge cost overruns, delays in development, and international espionage in which several terabytes of data related to the aircraft’s design and its electronics systems were stolen.
The aircraft has been haunted by what the report calls “fatal flaws” that make even the first configuration. An operational evaluation of the F-35A ”Joint Strike Fighter” by the Department of Defense’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, the aircraft was considered “unacceptable for combat” and even “unfit for training”.
USAF test pilots have noted a lack of visibility from the F-35 cockpit during evaluation flights and said that this will get them shot down in every combat. Defense spending analyst Winslow Wheeler concluded from the flight evaluation reports that the F-35A “is flawed beyond redemption”.
On 22 February 2013, the U.S. fleet of F-35s was grounded after a routine inspection of a F-35A at Edwards Air Force Base found a crack in an engine turbine blade.
The report also identified a host of additional problems, including:
- Aircraft software is inadequate for even basic pilot training.
- Ejection seat may fail causing pilot fatality.
- Multiple pilot-vehicle interface issues exist, including feedback failure on touch screen controls.
- The radar performs poorly, when it works at all.
- Engine replacement takes an average of 52 hours, instead of the two hours specified.
- Maintenance tools do not work.
- Elements of the helmet made it harder, not easier, to see outside the aircraft
In short, the F-35 is a failure of enormous proportions, and the colossal waste of money is difficult to justify. The $40 billion cost for just the F-35 alone, which has been termed “flawed beyond redemption”, might well have been saved, but for the arrogance and willful extravagance of those who put this program into action.
The Loss of Israeli Input
Over 4,500 General Dynamics F-16 have been built since production was first approved in 1976. Israel has been involved in the evolution of the F-16 since it received its first planes four years later, and quickly adapted the aircraft to its own specific requirements, adaptations which were shared with the US. In 1981, Israel had its first success in air-to-air combat against a Syrian Mi-8 helicopter over Lebanon. In that same year, eight Israeli F-16s, escorted by F-15s, executed Operation Opera, the raid that took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak near Baghdad.
Despite Israel’s leading position in avionics and weapons development, an illusion remains that Israel is dependent on the United States for the qualitative advantage of its weapon systems. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Over the years, Israel has made hundreds of modifications to the F-16, which is still the mainstay of its air fleet. Israeli technology improved nearly every system with the most advanced avionics, weapons, and radar technology for which Israel is famous.The US has benefited greatly from this technology and in the past has depended on Israeli input for many critical technological upgrades. Israel’s technological expertise and ingenuity has continued to keep the F-16 at the head of the pack, where it still remains the finest jet fighter in the world.
It is possible that Israeli input into the development of the F-35 could have made a significant difference in the outcome of its development. These decisions, in which the lives of our finest pilots are on the line, should not be made on the basis of politics or foreign policy. They should be made on the basis of how the finest technology available should be applied to provide the safest and most effective product for our military personnel. Here, we have failed miserably and, $120 billion later, the F-22 and F-35 debacle is the proof. In particular, the abysmal failure of the F-35 needs to be assessed carefully, without political prejudice, and a new set of priorities needs to be established before billions more are spent on sloppy and wasteful development projects.
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Ilana Freedman is Editor of GerardDirect.com. She has been an intelligence analyst in defense and counterterrorism for over twenty-five years.