The F-35 mantra and the need to a closer look
Since the very beginning of the F-35 program, all partner governments have tried to justify it by the production work the program will provide to their industry, and the high-tech jobs this work will create and support. Generally, the same three reasons are quoted by governments, repeated as a mantra:
- Only the F-35 has “fifth-generation capabilities,” including stealth and data fusion, that will ensure air supremacy in the future;
- Only the F-35 allows full interoperability with US forces and with future allied coalitions;
- Jobs: buying the F-35 guarantees highly profitable, high-tech work for the buyer’s national aerospace industry.
Seventeen years after the beginning of the program, all these assumptions need a closer look, behind a P.R. smokescreen.
To better understand the competition in Belgium, Defencechronicles has launched an in-depth report in three parts on the F-35 program.
In the part 1, to introduce the subject, Defencechronicles has collected some comments from the U.S decision-makers on the F-35. Here is an anthology of quotes from various key-decision American makers.
What the U.S decision-makers say about the F-35
- December 12, 2016:
“The F-35 program and cost is out of control.” Donald J. Trump, President-elect of the United States of America.
- January 10, 2017:
“The limited weapons loadout of the F-35 Block 3I makes effective attack of many expected types of targets in a typical theater a challenge. For example, unlike legacy aircraft, the F-35 Block 3I has no mixed weapons load capability, which limits flexibility to attack targets with appropriately matched weapons. F-35 Block 3I aircraft can only employ two internally carried bombs, and although internal carriage reduces the susceptibility of the F-35 relative to legacy aircraft, by virtue of the low observability it provides, it does not provide the ability to attack more than one of two targets.” Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E), The Pentagon (FY16 annual report, page 70).
- January 10, 2017:
“I have been recently informed the F-35’s System Development and Demonstration [SDD] phase has been delayed another seven months, another costly stumble that will cost the American taxpayer at least $500 million. This is yet another troubling sign for a program that has already nearly doubled in cost, taken nearly two decades to field, and has long been the poster child for acquisition malpractice.” U.S. Senator (R. Arizona) John McCain, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
- January 11, 2017:
“The F-35 is very late, it’s way over budget. The Joint Strike Fighter is not joint. You have three aircraft. It’s not one aircraft that can do three different jobs.” Raymond E. ‘Ray’ Mabus, Jr, U.S. Secretary of the Navy (May 19, 2009 – January 20, 2017).
- May 12, 2017:
“A forthcoming “deep-dive” review of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will determine whether the [F-35] Joint Program Office’s 80 million unit cost target is actually achievable through competition, supply chain efficiencies and other cost-cutting initiatives. The review is a fact-finding mission to discover the true cost of the F-35. Whenever you are looking at cost improvement, you have got to be realistic. You can’t establish targets that can’t be executed. So a lot of this is working in collaboration with the companies to say, “What can actually be executed reasonably?”…You don’t execute with grand strategies. You execute in the details.” Shay D. Assad, Director of Defense Pricing, The Pentagon.
- June 6, 2017:
“While the F-35 is finally approaching the end of its long and arduous System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase, I remain concerned about the F-35 program’s ability to finish on its latest delayed schedule and within its already massive budget. I am particularly concerned with the affordability and execution of the plan for Block 4 Follow-On-Modernization.” U.S. Senator (R. Arizona) John McCain, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
- July 10, 2017:
“After years of delays and massive cost overruns, the true cost of the F-35 program is still TBD [To Be Defined].” U.S. Senator (R. Arizona) John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (on “Twitter”).
- August 25, 2017:
“We know that the Joint Strike Fighter costs are too much and it costs too much to maintain. There is no doubt about it. This is not just about what it costs to buy a Joint Strike Fighter today, it’s about what it costs to maintain a Joint Strike Fighter in the future. At the end of the day, if we don’t change what we’re presently doing, we probably can’t afford the Joint Strike Fighter as it’s presently structured over its entire life.” Shay D. Assad, Director of Defense Pricing, The Pentagon.
- October 26, 2017:
“Although the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has fielded more than 250 F-35 aircraft, the aircraft system remains immature. DoD has established a target for system maturity of 200,000 total flight hours, with minimum flight hours for each variant (at least 75,000 flight hours each for the F-35A and F-35B, and 50,000 flight hours for the F-35C). DoD reached 100,000 total F-35 flight hours in July 2017, and it does not expect to reach its maturity targets for all variants until fiscal year 2024 (DoD projects that the F-35A will reach maturity in 2018, the F-35B in 2021, and the F-35C in 2024)…From January through August 7, 2017, the prime contractor [Lockheed Martin] reported that the average percentage of time that F-35 aircraft were unable to fly because they were awaiting parts was about 22 percent – more than double that of DoD’s objective of 10 percent.” Cary B. Russell, Defense Capabilities and Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office (report GAO-18-75, pages 10, 14 and 30).
- November 7, 2017:
« I’ve been screwing around with the F-35 for the last 12 years. At some universities and colleges around the country they’ll be teaching this as a classic example of failure…I remain concerned with the ability to deliver the F-35 program on its latest delayed schedule and within its already massive budget.” U.S. Senator (R. Arizona) John McCain, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
- December 7, 2017:
“We are still dealing with a trillion dollar F-35 program that continues to operate in dysfunction.” U.S. Senator (R. Arizona) John McCain, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
- January 18, 2018:
“I am deeply concerned about the sustainment issues of the F-35.” William B. Roger, Jr, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.
- January 23, 2018:
“Although the [F-35] program will deliver Lot [LRIP] 10 F-35A aircraft in early calendar year 2018 with Block 3F hardware, software, and a flight clearance for carrying weapons, these aircraft will not yet have the full planned Block 3F capability…The [JSF] program will not be able to completely mitigate the many open deficiencies by the end of System Development and Demonstration (SDD), resulting is shortfalls in fielded Block 3F capabilities that the F-35 needs in combat against current threats…The delays are caused by immature capabilities, continued discoveries, development of corrections, and regression testing…The operational suitability of the F-35 fleet remains at a level below Service expectations and is dependent on work-arounds that would not be acceptable in combat situations…Overall F-35 fleet-wide monthly availability rates remain around 50 percent, a condition that has existed with no significant improvement since October 2014, despite the increasing number of new aircraft.” Robert F. Behler, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E), The Pentagon (FY17 annual report, pages 31, 34, 38, 39, and 47).
- January 31, 2018:
“Right now, we can’t afford the sustainment costs we have on the F-35.” Ellen M. Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD AT&L), The Pentagon.