The F-35 is a Failure

The Pentagon has spent about $1.7 trillion on a jet that Trump loved to talk about. But the military never got its money’s worth. MSNBC’s Brian Williams explains. Aired on 02/25/2021.

The US Air Force Quietly Admits the F-35 Is a Failure
By Joel Hruska on February 25, 2021
“The Air Force has announced a new study into the tactical aviation
requirements of future aircraft, dubbed TacAir. In the process of doing
so, Air Force chief of staff General Charles Q. Brown finally admitted
what’s been obvious for years: The F-35 program has failed to achieve
its goals. There is, at this point, little reason to believe it will
ever succeed.
According to Brown, the USAF doesn’t just need the NGAD (Next Generation
Air Dominance) fighter, a sixth-generation aircraft — it also needs a
new, “5th-generation minus / 4.5th-generation aircraft.” Brown
acknowledged some recent issues with the F-35 and suggested one
potential solution was to fly the plane less often.
“I want to moderate how much we’re using those aircraft,” the general
said. “You don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it
on Sundays. This is our high end, we want to make sure we don’t use it
all for the low-end fight… We don’t want to burn up capability now and
wish we had it later.”

These statements may not seem provocative, but they represent a huge
shift in the Air Force’s stance regarding the F-35. The F-35 originated
from what was originally known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)
program, a multi-national development effort between the United States,
the UK, and multiple other partner nations. The explicit purpose of the
JSF program was to create a single aircraft that could replace a wide
range of air, ground, and strike fighter capabilities. Today, the F-35
exists in three variants. The F-35A provides conventional
takeoff/landing and is operated by the USAF, the F-35B provides
short-takeoff and vertical-landing (STVOL) capabilities for the US
Marines, and the F-35C is designed for carrier operations and is
operated by the US Navy.
The DoD and Lockheed-Martin have spent years painting the F-35 as a
flexible, multi-role aircraft capable of outperforming a range of older
planes. The rhetoric worked. The F-22 Raptor, F/A-18 Hornet, and several
jets in the Harrier family were retired because the F-35 was supposed to
replace them. The Air Force fought to replace the beloved A-10 Warthog
with the F-35 on the grounds that the latter was, somehow, a superior
The F-16 was supposed to be replaced by the F-35. Back in 2010, Lockheed
expected the F-35 to replace the F-15C/D variants as well as the F-15E
Strike Eagle. That’s six different aircraft covering all three roles
(air-to-air, strike, and ground). The F-35 was explicitly developed and
designed to be a flexible, effective, and relatively affordable aircraft
with sophisticated logistics management systems that would reduce
downtime and boost reliability.
This aircraft wasn’t supposed to be a Ferrari. It was billed,
explicitly, loudly, and repeatedly, as the single platform that could
fill any mission requirement and satisfy virtually any mission profile
outside of something a B-52 might handle. Instead, the Air Force,
Marines, and Navy have all adjusted plans at various times to keep older
aircraft in service due to delays and problems with the F-35.
To say the F-35 has failed to deliver on its goals would be an
understatement. Its mission capable rate is 69 percent, below the 80
percent benchmark set by the military. 36 percent of the F-35 fleet is
available for any required mission, well below the required 50 percent
standard. Current and ongoing problems include faster than expected
engine wear, transparency delamination of the cockpit, and unspecified
problems with the F-35’s power module. The General Accountability Office
(GAO) has blamed some of this on spare parts shortages, writing:
[T]he F-35 supply chain does not have enough spare parts available to
keep aircraft flying enough of the time necessary to meet warfighter
requirements. “Several factors contributed to these parts shortages,
including F-35 parts breaking more often than expected, and DOD’s
limited capability to repair parts when they break.
There have been so many problems with the F-35, it’s difficult even to
summarize them. Pilot blackouts, premature part failures, software
development disasters, and more have all figured in various documents
over the years. Firing the main gun can crack the plane. The Air Force
has already moved to buy new F-15EX aircraft. Multiple partner nations
that once promised F-35 buys have shifted orders to other planes. The
USAF continues to insist it will purchase 1,763 aircraft, but the odds
of it doing so are increasingly dubious. The F-15EX costs an estimated
$20,000 per hour to fly. The F-35 runs $44,000. Lockheed-Martin has
promised to bring that cost down to $25,000, but it’s been promising
that for years. Former Air Force pilots have not been kind in their
recent evaluations of the aircraft’s performance and capabilities.
Brown indicated he’s not interested in buying more F-16s, because not
even the most advanced variants have the full scope of features the USAF
hopes to acquire. This would presumably also disqualify the “F-21”
Lockheed-Martin recently announced for the Indian market. Instead, Brown
wants to develop a new fighter with fresh ideas on implementing proven
Congress will have a voice in this discussion, so it’s far from a done
deal, but after over a decade mired in failure, someone at the DoD is
willing, however quietly, to acknowledge that the F-35 will never
perform the role it was supposed to play. As for how much it’ll actually
cost to build that 4.5th-generation fighter, all I’ll say is this: The
F-35 was pitched to Congress and the world as a way of saving money.
Today, the lifetime cost of the aircraft program, including R&D, is
estimated to be over $1.5 trillion. The price of a supposedly cheaper
4.5-generation plane could easily match or exceed the F-35’s flyaway
cost by the time all is said and done, though hopefully any future
aircraft would still manage to offer a much lower cost per hour.”