Balance the Budget: Cut the Pentagon's Disastrous $1.5 Trillion F-35 Fighter Jet Program
March 9, 2013 Russia Today & Business Insider & The Washington Times & National Public Radio
The F-35 is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program at a total estimated cost between $400 billion and $1.5 trillion. A leaked report now shows that the F-35A "is flawed beyond redemption" and "would be defeated in aerial combat because of its current shortcomings" including "out-of-cockpit visibility" problems limiting a pilot's ability to see aerial threats surrounding him.
Tool Time: F-35 Price is Up, Up and Away The Alyona Show / Russia Today
(March 30, 2012) -- Just this week Reuters obtained new projections from the Pentagon about the ballooning cost of the F-35's. It looks like the total cost of the F-35 program jumped from 1 trillion dollars to 1.45 trillion in just the last year, with the price per aircraft jumping up 15 billion dollars.
And really it should come as no surprise that the government has no intentions of bailing on the program given the fact that the company producing the F-35's Lockheed Martin seems to have an increasingly cozy relationship with the government. Looks like the F-35 project will march on no matter how long it takes and how much money it ends up costing and for that the Pentagon is tonight's tool time winner.
Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Needs Another Year Financial News Online
(November 2, 2010) -- "Lockheed Martin's (NYSE:LMT) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which has already been plagued by heavy costs and delays, may not enter the service for another year, according to a Reuters report. The news service said Draft results of a in depth review of the program were shown to Ashton Carter, the Defense Department's chief acquisition officer.
The draft report suggested that the Navy and Air Force versions of the F-35 will require another year of development. The jet was envisioned to become the heart of the US fighter-jet fleet but a host of software issues have plagued its birth. The total cost for the jet is now 64% over initial estimates, or upwards of $682 billion." Leaked Pentagon Report:
The F-35 Won't Stand A Chance In Aerial Combat David Cenciotti / The Aviationist at Business Insider
(March 7, 2013) -- According to an article published by the Washington Times, the F-35A, the Conventional Take Off and Landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter, would be defeated in aerial combat because of its current shortcomings.
Mentioning a leaked Pentagon report made available by POGO, the article explains that "out-of-cockpit visibility in the F-35A is less than other Air Force fighter aircraft," thus limiting a pilot's ability to see aerial threats surrounding him.
The problem is in the large head rest that impedes rear visibility and the ability of the pilot to check the aircraft's 6 o'clock for incoming aerial or surface threats.
Another shortcoming is the aircraft adveniristic helmet-mounted display system (HMDS Gen. II), that has not yet solved focal problems, blurry and double vision in the display and misalignment of the virtual horizon display with the actual horizon.
The HMDS Gen. II integrates FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) and DAS (Distributed Aperture System) imaging, and night vision (without somehow uncomfortable NVGs – Night Vision Goggles) into a single helmet in which essential flight and weapon aiming information are project onto a virtual HUD (Head Up Display) on the visor.
A few weeks ago in a Flight Global piece by Dave Majumdar, Bill Flynn, the Lockheed test pilot responsible for flight envelope expansion activities for the F-35 had claimed that all three variants of the Joint Strike Fighter will have better kinematic performance than any fourth-generation fighter plane with combat payload, including the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Such claims were strongly disputed by a Eurofighter Typhoon industry test pilot, who tried to debunk all Flynn's "theories" about the alleged superior F-35 performance.
Considering the above mentioned F-35′s flaws (and all the shortcomings highlighted by the report…), the kinematic performance of the (recently, once again, grounded) stealth fighter, is the least of its problems.
Aviation journalist David Axe has published an insightful piece about Lockheed Martin's marketing efforts to keep up "the much-delayed, over-budget" F-35 Joint Strike Fighter reputation. New Pentagon Super Fighter
Will Get Pilots Shot Down, Warns Report Shaun Waterman / The Washington Times
(March 6, 2013) -- The U.S. Air Force version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has shortcomings that will get pilots shot down in combat, according to a leaked Pentagon report evaluating combat testing of the plane.
"The out-of-cockpit visibility in the F-35A is less than other Air Force fighter aircraft," states the report from the Defense Department's Directorate of Operational Test and Evaluation, referring to a pilot's ability to see the sky around them.
Test pilots' comments quoted in the report are more blunt.
"The head rest is too large and will impede aft [rear] visibility and survivability during surface and air engagements," said one. "Aft visibility will get the pilot gunned [down] every time" in dogfights, opined another.
The report, known as an Operational Utility Evaluation, was posted online by spending watchdog the Project on Government Oversight.
A spokesman for Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin, the lead contractor on the $400 billion multi-service F-35 program, which is developing three different versions of the plane for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, defended the aircraft's performance.
The Air Force undertook its own Operational Utility Evaluation on the F-35A last year, said Lockheed Spokesman Michael J. Rein. The service's Air Evaluation and Training Command found the plane "ready to conduct safe and effective flying training operations," he said.
In addition to limited visibility, the aircraft's much touted multi-million dollar electronic helmet mounted display -- which is supposed to project important technical information onto the faceplate of the pilot's helmet -- "presented frequent problems for the pilots," according to the report.
These included "misalignment of the virtual horizon display with the actual horizon, inoperative or flickering displays, and focal problems -- where the pilot would have either blurry or ‘double vision' in the display," the report states.
The report shows that the F-35A "is flawed beyond redemption," commented POGO staffer and veteran defense spending analyst Winslow Wheeler.
The Air Force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(January 2, 2013) -- In a mile-long building on the edge of Fort Worth, Texas, an assembly line is taking shape to build the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Lockheed Martin, which got the contract to build the jet back in 2001, is slowly cranking up production. It's hard to keep a plane current, when it takes so many years to develop.
But Lockheed's Kevin McCormack says the F-35 is designed to change as technology evolves.
"It's essentially a flying computer so we want to take advantage of what's going to be out there in the future and put it on board this airplane in a cost-effective manner," he says.
Many planes already rely heavily on computer code, but the F-35 is supposed to up the ante. With 9 million lines of code, it's also open to faster chips and better software as they become available.
But many budget hawks and defense geeks say the problem is that this plane just keeps getting more expensive. Right now, the cost of the Air Force version is nearly $130 million a plane. The Marine version, which flies like a jet but can land like a helicopter, is more than $160 million.
Lockheed says you shouldn't look at today's price because the cost will come down when this assembly line ramps up to full production later in the decade. Lockheed's Mike Rein says, as long as the militaries of the world keep buying planes, the average price will come down to $65 million per plane.
"You have to also look at the costs to maintain the platforms that this aircraft is replacing," he says. "Many of the countries are already seeing that their fourth-generation airplanes, some of them 40 or 50 years old, are extremely expensive to maintain."
Volume Would Cut Cost
But to keep the price of this new plane down, Lockheed has to sell a lot of them -- about 3,000. The military will get a volume discount. But right now, it's paying a high price.
Many say this program has set a new standard for pricing complexity, even for the Pentagon. Winslow Wheeler, a defense expert with the Project on Government Oversight, says Lockheed uses a pricing vocabulary that masks rising costs.
"Flyaway costs, non-recurring and recurring costs. Lots of gobblygook and they'll say that comes to a number like 60, 70 million dollars, and it's complete baloney," he says.
Wheeler says if you figure in all the research and fixes to the design, the price rises out of sight. No matter what the actual cost, this issue has turned into a public relations battle for the military.
The Pentagon defends the F-35 in public, while chastising Lockheed over costs and delays.
Too Many Tasks?
F-35 critics say the basic concept was faulty from the start. This one plane is supposed to do the jobs of as many as 10 older airframes. Wheeler says the F-35 is stretched between too many tasks.
"They also made it a short takeoff and vertical landing airplane," he said. "That has lots of design requirements that contradict what you need for either a fighter or a bomber."
Wheeler says the result is a plane that is mediocre at everything.
Questions about the F-35's cost and performance have created a new international sport: trashing the plane online.
It's a particularly popular game in the eight partner nations scheduled to buy hundreds of F-35s in the coming years.
Peter Goon of the think tank Air Power Australia says data on F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter or JSF, show that it's unable to achieve its main goal -- competing with similar advanced fighters from China and Russia.
"Other countries are doing what they should be doing -- that is producing capabilities to defend their sovereign nation. But unfortunately, the capabilities they are presenting now are far superior to the JSF," he says.
This past year, Australia said it would delay some of its F-35 purchases in order to save money. And recently, the Canadian government threw its purchase into question.
The Pentagon says budget numbers can't describe the huge return it expects from this plane. Sure, it's expensive, says Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank Gorenc, "but it's also a procurement package that will put iron on the ramp for the next 50 years."
The growing cost of the program may be tempting for a Congress looking for budget reductions. But the military's bizarre procurement system could also protect the F-35: If the U.S. orders fewer planes, it will pay more for each. So it may be too expensive to buy and too expensive to cut.
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