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The Fighter Jet That’s Too Pricey to Fail

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Last week, the new head of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Adam Smith, said in an interview that the F-35 fighter jet was a “rathole” draining money. He said the Pentagon should consider whether to “cut its losses.” That promptly set off another round of groaning about the most expensive weapon system ever built, and questions about whether it should — or could — be scrapped. (www.nytimes.com) Mehr...

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bartmiller
bartmiller 10
This plane has had more than it's share of design issues from the very start. Personally, I find that Lockheed Martin's oversight as prime contractor has been deficient.

15 years ago, when the plane was brand new and not yet in regular production, it was discovered the the avionics and control systems, coming from more than a dozen different vendors, couldn't talk to each other. Technically speaking, they had designed a communication bus (more like a local network), but didn't define a synchronization protocol that would keep the various boxes from interfering with each other's communication. Each vendor defined its own mechanism, which weren't interoperable or compatible. The prime (LM) had clearly failed to establish such a protocol early on.

DoD asked ONR (the Office of Naval Research) to get a few academic folks like me on series of long conference calls between LM and the vendors to try to sort this out. Weeks of marathon conversations got things moving in the right direction. And, of course, added significant delays while the protocol was defined and then each vendor had a chance to implement their version of the protocol (each with different hardware, operating system and programming language).

And, of course, there followed a period of interoperability testing.

And that's just the computers. There were fuel tank, air frame cracking, tail hook, and O2 system issues.

I have a lot of respect for the actual design, but the haphazard management of the project and resulting cost overruns brought this plane to operation way too late.
rgaviator
Ro Gal 5
You nailed it with your example of syncing all the integrated comm systems. Coming from the maintenance and training side of the house, I can cite several examples of interoperability issues with legacy range training systems as well as coalition aircraft and shipboard systems. This does not even touch the LVC challenges all services faced with their own integration issues. It is akin to hitting a moving target at night with a slingshot while riding a bicycle! These challenges were apparent as late as 2017 and were far from being resolved. I feel there wasn't enough communication between all the vested partners. One can blame industry or government, there is plenty to go around. The answer to avoid these problems isn't apparent even in retrospect. Perhaps a single oversight coordinator, a super program integrator that oversees the government program manager and the contractor or more input and initiation from end users and customers (always a sound choice). Lastly, has anyone ever explained why the F-22 wasn't a good choice for America over the F-35? What can the 35 do that the 22 could not do with upgrades? The savings captured could have bolstered legacy F-15 and F/A-18 aircraft sustainment another 10 years or more!
SkyAware123
SkyAware123 1
good question. It was too expensive... so they decided to develop an even more expensive plane that was supposed to do it 'all'. So now we have a plane that can do 'everything' but isn't great any anything. They should have stuck with the f22/f18's, maybe buy the newer upgraded models and focused on drones for the rest. We'd be much more ahead of the rest and saved a shitload of $$$
SkyAware123
SkyAware123 1
Don't forget the supply chain management system issues. cluster f....
LM should have been much more strict in dictating how the various systems talk to each other. But I can't say this is unique. There's quite a few it project in the graveyard due to similar issues. It's not easy.
trowe
Tommy Rowe 4
Does anyone remember McNamara's one-size-fits-all F-111 that was supposed to be the total answer to all jet fighter/bomber/interceptor/etc. needs for Navy/Air Force/Marines/etc.?
It started off being too heavy to hit the boat.
rgaviator
Ro Gal 3
Good point! I think the concept of any joint weapon for all services is a great cast savings and ease of integration to the troops. Look at the F-4 and A-7, both used by USAF/USN. The problem with McNamara's idea is he backed the wrong type of aircraft to push onto the services. just my opinion.
trowe
Tommy Rowe 3
And I think he was too inflexible and tried to just force the issue instead of changing the program.
Johnf1234
john fiore 1
The F-111, "the flying edsel", grounded on 8 different occasion; ended up costing 4x original cost;
some shot down by rifle fire in N. Vietnam, but still not as dangerous as the F-14, which once shot "itself" down with its own sparrow missile...
wmmoseley
mike moseley 3
As an engineer I helped develop software for the F-35 (JSF) platform when working for a sub-prime contractor. This was in the early 2000's when the development phase was just getting going in earnests. We burned thru our 900 million contract pretty quickly and had to plead for another round of funding ( 300 million or so I believe). It was such a boondoggle and waste but typical for defense contactors. To give credit where it's due F-35 is a Very complex weapons/sensor platform. My take is that it is overly complex for most missions so the Ferrari analogy seems right. Modernized A10's, F-16', super hornets and UAV's in large numbers are about all one would need for attack and fighter aircraft. VSTOl capabilities are a huge waste( helicopters anyone) as is Marine air in my opinion (as is the Marie amphibious assault capabilities - when was the last time we had a war that we needed to "hit the beach". Our precious tax dollars could be better spent on 21st century weapon systems.
lynx318
lynx318 1
The more complex something is, the more things there are to fail. How an aircraft that was envisioned to share 70% of its parts over the 3 armed forces variants and only achieved <25%, plus $36,000 hourly average maintenance costs is bad design. VTOL is a waste in fighters unless like in WW2 where refueling/rearming airfields were bombed heavily in Europe, it was investigated as a possibility over rebuilding airfields continuously.
SkyAware123
SkyAware123 1
It goes 2 ways. Government has this endless pot of gold (taxdollars) but contractors burn thru this expecting more rounds of funding to be automatically awarded. I've worked in this sector, making money as a contractor is a LOT easier.
gzelna
Greg Zelna 2
I seem to recall one or two downward revisions to the F-35's performance specs- because it simply could not achieve them. Rate of climb, Turns/g-forces - stuff like that, which aren't all that important to fighters, are they ? Sigh, sure miss the F-22s - yes a different conops but cancelled way too soon and once airborne, superior in every way to an F-35 and by a long shot........ Remember the F-22 also had a STOL requirement, which it achieved- not VTOL of course.
TiredTom
Tom Bruce 1
great airplane but, like the F35, costs $ tens of thousands per flight hour...
ReverendLee
ReverendLee 2
The F-35 Lightning II is an example of "designing the plane you're flying it."

It's an awful idea, it's an awful critical design theory, and it has produced an awful plane. US DoT&E says the plane is defective. The USAF says the plane is defective. The US Navy's aircraft carriers can't launch and recover them. The Marines can't operate them in cold weather conditions.

The list of critical design faults and deficiencies is staggering for something that's being fielded today.

Or, you know, read the report.: https://www.dote.osd.mil/Portals/97/pub/reports/FY2020/dod/2020f35jsf.pdf
ReverendLee
ReverendLee 2
Correction:

The F-35 Lightning II is an example of "designing the plane while you're flying it."
SkyAware123
SkyAware123 1
in other words, fix upon fix upon fix upon fix.....
smithfc
Francis smith 4
Have we ever seen a new weapon system that doesn't have issues at the beginning.
rgaviator
Ro Gal 5
I've been in program acquisition for 26 years and have always seen some challenges or issues with acquiring and fielding weapon systems. That said, I've never seen the scale and impact of issues with the F-35, that literally drive both cost and schedule overruns. Maybe its complexity, service conflicts with mission or political. Either way it's an ugly baby as we would often say.
SkyAware123
SkyAware123 1
No but the more complex these systems get the more resources it needs to fix them. Exponentially.
bartmiller
bartmiller 1
The Navy has done pretty well. The Ford class carriers seem to have come in pretty close to forecast.
SkyAware123
SkyAware123 1
syeah right...https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/22/ford-carrier-emblematic-of-navys-struggle-with-technology-costs.html
RECOR10
RECOR10 0
And the fact is a WWII-style "atom" bomb (and the willingness to use it) would be very effective for MAD styles of geopolitical stalemates. That said, I am still waiting for China to become "woke" and tear down that wall they have....(as we see, with an ignorant puppet in WH the US Southern Wall is unfinished and now a joke as illegals swarm into the US with the left welcoming them).

So, to the point, can we put illegals in slave labor camps to build radioactive weapons?

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

Johnf1234
john fiore 1
So, the F-35 joins the AH-56A, the C-5A, the B-1 and the B-52 in the Boondoggle list.
tylerc873
Tyler Cippen 1
WOW!!!!!!!!!! T
TiredTom
Tom Bruce 1
15 years so the Russians and Chinese know everything about it... Didn't this start out as a Lightweight all purpose fighter to replace the F16? Think that when the AF discovered they weren't gonna get any other fighter for awhile they loaded it up with everything they could.. kept changing it...adding things.. Lockheed? went along but I think the AF tried to make..ah..ah.. "a purse out of a pig's ear"
bartmiller
bartmiller 1
I don't disagree that our military spending is too high. However, I think, though, that the 50% number is of "discretionary" funding, which makes up 1/3 of the US budget.

The latest numbers that I saw were $0.7 billion to the military ("national defense") and $4.8 billion total US budget, which is just under 15%.
SkyAware123
SkyAware123 1
I think the biggest problem is that the spending (which is high) doesn't get them what they should be getting for the amount of spending. It's management failure at a scale never seen before.
gzelna
Greg Zelna 1
Not sure on that, I believe right out of the chute, the F-35 was supposed to be multirole, with AF and Navy/Marine versions of it. The changes I saw were descoping of its original performance requirements as it could not achieve them.....
lynx318
lynx318 1
We bought ourselves a Prius, we're stuck with it, now we have to drive it....
KineticRider
Randy Marco 1
F35 is one of the BIGGEST military boondoggles; which in fact, is socialized corporate welfare disguised as a military "need" but most all will shrug it of because it's "for the military".

Eisenhower warned us as he was leaving office of the rise of Military Industrial Complex; how corporate America would NEVER cease coming up with new military needs, as anything for the military would be popular with the masses... he was EXACTLY right.

The Military now takes 50% of our tax revenue... uses 50% of ALL the oil produced in the world... is larger than the next 13 countries militaries COMBINED.

When is it going to be enough....

Answer... NEVER!
bartmiller
bartmiller 3
I don't disagree that our military spending is too high. However, I think, though, that the 50% number is of "discretionary" funding, which makes up 1/3 of the US budget.

The latest numbers that I saw were $0.7 billion to the military ("national defense") and $4.8 billion total US budget, which is just under 15%.

(sorry that I posted this twice .... replied to the wrong posting above)
RECOR10
RECOR10 0
If I am not mistaken the French used to have the same mindset on Military Spending. Fact is, you can never be too safe, to strong or have too good of an offense.
SkyAware123
SkyAware123 1
yep, it's a blank check. Which could work... IF oversight was 100%
tongo
Dan Grelinger -3
No doubt that there are issues with the development and use of this airplane. However, there is so much editorializing in this article that it makes it almost impossible to determine what the real answer is. It’s what I have come to expect from New York Times’ ‘news’.
tongo
Dan Grelinger 2
Well, I just took a closer look at the top of the article, and found ‘Opinion’. OK, I will correct my conclusion. The New York Times did us one service by calling this an opinion piece. It is certainly appropriate to editorialize in an opinion piece. However, they missed the opportunity to do a real service and publish an actual ‘news’ article on the subject. Or, perhaps they have, in which case this is what should have been linked here on FlightAware.
wittjd
Jerry Witt 3
It's several years old but this article catalogs some of the history. Sorry if there's a paywall. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/21/magazine/f35-joint-strike-fighter-program.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

WillyRoss
WillyRoss 2
You want free? Nope, ain't gonna happen
tongo
Dan Grelinger 1
There are lots of 'free' news sites. Advertising pays for them. NYT seems to be free 'sometimes'. I was able to read the article, but I rarely visit their site.

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