The F-35 is already obsolete

The Isthmus  |  September 26, 2019   |  Jeff Kelly

The state-of-the-art fighter jet proposed for Madison has a long history of problems

One of the most hated projects in Department of Defense history may find a home in Madison.

The F-35 is promoted as the next generation jet fighter. The local Truax Air Base representatives have rolled out an impressive PR campaign to ensure the plane is based in Madison. This included a highly stylized taxpayer-funded display at the Alliant Center with glossy charts, a hat giveaway and smiling Air Force officers. Glowing puff pieces about the base have appeared in local media. All in comparison to a bare bones community event held in a north-side school organized by opposition.

The plane traffic over my neighborhood, Eken Park, can be intolerable, however, that is an emotional response. What the public deserves to know is what the plane is and who is promoting it.

The F-35 project has been troubled from the start and the future of jet planes is in doubt. Many believe the F-35 will be the last jet plane. But piloted planes retain an air of necessity in the military. A recent Rand study published by the Air Force Times reports that former pilots, over every other classification, have been promoted to positions of power, shaping debate about the future of jet planes. The current commander at Truax, Col. Erik Peterson, comes from this background.

The chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. David Goldfein, believes that the future of fighting adversaries is cyber warfare. This, along with missile technology and drones, are what the future holds — not fighter jet planes. The romantic image of dogfighting is no longer reality.

On a macro level, the U.S. military has 800 bases in 83 different countries. The Navy has an active presence in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Our Army can defeat any smaller country in the world as evidenced by our complete devastation of the large Iraqi Army. China and Russia, often times mentioned as potential adversaries, would be more problematic because they continually develop countermeasures to systems like the F-35. Factor in the remaining threat of nuclear missiles, and the need for the F-35 seems questionable.

So why is the F-35A proposed for Madison?

As detailed byThe New York Timesin August, the Lockheed Martin Company looks at the F-35 as a too-big-to-fail project. It has become an endless money pit that has swallowed resources.

Many types of dysfunctions have occurred over the 20-year project: Crashes, canopy failures, helmet glow issues, tire blowouts, oxygen monitor failures, stealth features that account for half of all defects, software vulnerable to cyber attacks, and guns that miss targets. Former U.S. Sen. John McCain, a former U.S. Navy pilot,called the project“both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance.” After his death, no other politician has held Lockheed accountable. Despite not meeting standards, with 13 deficiencies still unaddressed this summer, the Department of Defense has totally ignored the Nunn-McCurdy Law, which calls for projects that exceed cost estimates by 50 percent to be cancelled.

The Project on Government Oversightblasted the F-35program, stating “With the revelation that officials made paperwork fixes to make serious deficiencies appear acceptable, it seems that much of that work is being ignored in the name of political expediency and protecting F-35 funding.”

When fixes are made with the jet, new issues arise. Lockheed has not proven it can properly equip and maintain the current fleet. At Hill Air Force Base in Utah, 30 percent or more of the planes are grounded for lack of parts, according toThe New York Times. In 2017 and 2018, half the fleet was down for maintenance. The $80 million cost per plane, the $1 trillion cost for the program, and the $42,000 cost per hour to fly the plane also should be considered. Former Truax Commander Jeff Wiegandcommentedthat if Truax receives more flight simulators, the plane will not fly much because it’s so expensive. Even Gen. Goldfein has said it’s too expensive to fly. So, why is it coming here?

The powers that be — including Truax, Lockheed, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce — want the plane in Madison.

But the obsolescence of the plane, the dysfunctional track record and the environmental impact in a dense urban city make the siting highly questionable. This is not meant to disparage the many outstanding Truax personnel, but, truth be told, the Air Force is desperately searching for a home for the F-35.

Is this the kind of plane we should be forced to support? On deciding whether you support it, or not, consider if the mindset behind it is capable of thinking objectively about the future.