F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Problems Mount

I previously have blogged about the trouble-plagued F-35 Joint Strike Fighter but a plethora of articles have been published in the past month, detailing even more problems. The F-35 came into more prominent public view when the Canadian government recently announced it was considering cancelling its entire F-35 order.

Canada is one of eight nations which have placed orders totaling 697 F-35s. Canada is considering cancelling its order because the Canadian government learned that the cost of its order has risen to $42 billion over the 42-year life of the jet fighter; also, the Canadian auditor-general has found a lack of fair competition in bidding for the order, significantly understated costs, and failure to get required approval and documentation.

Besides Canada, Australia is considering cutting its order in half and Italy, Great Britain and the Netherlands are considering pulling out. A prime axiom drilled into physicians is: “First, do no harm.” Following this axiom, the United States should honor requests to reduce and/or cancel orders from other nations, because we are burdening them with substantial costs and providing them a deeply flawed product. This should be done even though it will increase the per-plane cost for the United States.

Originally, Lock-Heed Martin, the prime contractor for the F-35, promised it would develop and manufacture 2,825 planes for $233 billion each, yet, now it will cost $397 billion a plane for 409 fewer planes. Taxpayers have already spent $84 billion for design and initial production, while retrofitting may cost as much as $4 billion for the 65 F-35s already built. The Department of Defense and Lock-Heed Martin have constructed what amounts to a forcefield around the program by manufacturing parts for the F-35 in 45 states. The Pentagon estimates it will cost $1.1 trillion over the life of the F-35 to fly and maintain it.

One of the main selling points for the F-35 was that its parts would be 70 to 80 percent compatible for the three services it has been designed to serve: the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines; however, the parts are now about 70 percent distinct from one another.

As is the case with the increasingly sophisticated fighter planes being built by the United States, millions of lines of computer code must be written, increasing downtime for maintenance work. The problem doesn’t stop there, as the Air Force wants a lighter plane for aerial combat and the Navy wants a heavier plane for the added range needed and the pounding a plane takes in landing on aircraft carriers. Pilots have serious concerns.

A main pilot concern is with the F-35’s complicated, expensive helmet-mounted display system, which pilots complain distorts and obscures their vision. Further obstructing vision is the placing of the pilot ejection system, increasing the odds of the plane being gunned down from behind in an aerial dogfight. Even the radar system has shortfalls, with pilots reporting that the touch screen is “error-prone.” 

Time is growing short to pull the plug on the F-35, as by 2017 the military will own 365 of them. The United States currently has several varieties of jet fighter planes that will maintain its aerial superiority in that category of aircraft for many years to come. A nation committed to long-term deficit reduction and prudent management of its armed forces should pull the plug on further development and production of the F-35 after current contractual obligations are met.

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