The Pentagon is about to waste $1.5 trillion, 38% of entire defense budget for a "virtual flying piano". That may sound preposterous, and it is. Unfortunately, it is also true.
Foreign Policy Magazine discusses the sad saga of The Jet That Ate the Pentagon.
This month, we learned that the Pentagon has increased the price tag for the F-35 by another $289 million -- just the latest in a long string of cost increases -- and that the program is expected to account for a whopping 38 percent of Pentagon procurement for defense programs, assuming its cost will grow no more.
How bad is it? A review of the F-35's cost, schedule, and performance -- three essential measures of any Pentagon program -- shows the problems are fundamental and still growing.
Although the plane was originally billed as a low-cost solution, major cost increases have plagued the program throughout the last decade. Last year, Pentagon leadership told Congress the acquisition price had increased another 16 percent, from $328.3 billion to $379.4 billion for the 2,457 aircraft to be bought. Not to worry, however -- they pledged to finally reverse the growth.
The result? This February, the price increased another 4 percent to $395.7 billion and then even further in April. Don't expect the cost overruns to end there: The test program is only 20 percent complete, the Government Accountability Office has reported, and the toughest tests are yet to come. Overall, the program's cost has grown 75 percent from its original 2001 estimate of $226.5 billion -- and that was for a larger buy of 2,866 aircraft.
The total program unit cost for each individual F-35, now at $161 million, is only a temporary plateau. Expect yet another increase in early 2013, when a new round of budget restrictions is sure to hit the Pentagon, and the F-35 will take more hits in the form of reducing the numbers to be bought, thereby increasing the unit cost of each plane.
A final note on expense: The F-35 will actually cost multiples of the $395.7 billion cited above. That is the current estimate only to acquire it, not the full life-cycle cost to operate it. The current appraisal for operations and support is $1.1 trillion -- making for a grand total of $1.5 trillion, or more than the annual GDP of Spain. And that estimate is wildly optimistic: It assumes the F-35 will only be 42 percent more expensive to operate than an F-16, but the F-35 is much more complex.
The F-35 isn't only expensive -- it's way behind schedule. The first plan was to have an initial batch of F-35s available for combat in 2010. Then first deployment was to be 2012. More recently, the military services have said the deployment date is "to be determined." A new target date of 2019 has been informally suggested in testimony -- almost 10 years late.
The design was born in the late 1980s in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon agency that has earned an undeserved reputation for astute innovation. It emerged as a proposal for a very short takeoff and vertical-landing aircraft (known as "STOVL") that would also be supersonic. This required an airframe design that -- simultaneously -- wanted to be short, even stumpy, and single-engine (STOVL), and also sleek, long, and with lots of excess power, usually with twin engines.
President Bill Clinton's Pentagon bogged down the already compromised design concept further by adding the requirement that it should be a multirole aircraft -- both an air-to-air fighter and a bomber. This required more difficult tradeoffs between agility and low weight, and the characteristics of an airframe optimized to carry heavy loads. Clinton-era officials also layered on "stealth," imposing additional aerodynamic shape requirements and maintenance-intensive skin coatings to reduce radar reflections. They also added two separate weapons bays, which increase permanent weight and drag, to hide onboard missiles and bombs from radars. On top of all that, they made it multiservice, requiring still more tradeoffs to accommodate more differing, but exacting, needs of the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy.
Finally, again during the Clinton administration, the advocates composed a highly "concurrent" acquisition strategy. That meant hundreds of copies of the F-35 would be produced, and the financial and political commitments would be made, before the test results showed just what was being bought.
This grotesquely unpromising plan has already resulted in multitudes of problems -- and 80 percent of the flight testing remains. A virtual flying piano, the F-35 lacks the F-16's agility in the air-to-air mode and the F-15E's range and payload in the bombing mode, and it can't even begin to compare to the A-10 at low-altitude close air support for troops engaged in combat. Worse yet, it won't be able to get into the air as often to perform any mission -- or just as importantly, to train pilots -- because its complexity prolongs maintenance and limits availability.
Establishing air superiority in today’s complex global security climate requires the unprecedented capabilities and versatility that only the F-35 Lightning II can offer.
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McCain was presented with the Wing Coin and Chairman’s Award by Brig. Gen. Kurt Neubauer, 56th Fighter Wing Commander, and Charley Freericks, Chairman of Fighter Country Partnership’s board of directors. The award was given in recognition of McCain being a champion of Luke during his years of public service.
Neubauer thanked McCain for speaking at the gathering of more than 250 Fighter Country Partnership members and guests at the annual meeting. He noted the 27,000 sorties, 35,000 hours of flight, the training of 350 new pilots and 400 crew chiefs that took place at Luke in 2009. He told the crowd that Luke trains 95 percent of all the fighter pilots for the Air Force, and has deployed 600 down range to 17 different countries.
Idaho citizens are second to none in their enthusiastic support for the men and women of our Armed Forces and for their military missions. Hosting the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter would be a great way to continue that tradition while helping to secure the future of Mountain Home Air Force Base and Gowen Field. That’s to say nothing of the thousands of great jobs and economic opportunities that having the F-35s here would create. C.L. "BUTCH" OTTER, GOVERNORGreed, Graft, Public Unions
Unionized workers on strike against Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) over healthcare benefits and pensions are prepared for a long work stoppage, a top union official said on Tuesday as the company said it would be able to keep operations running.
Nearly 3,650 union workers walked off the job on Monday at the Fort Worth, Texas, plant where Lockheed builds the new F-35 fighter plane and at two military bases where it is tested.
Paul Black, president of the local chapter of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), said three earlier strikes in 1984, 2000 and 2003 lasted from two to three weeks, and union leaders have warned workers the current dispute could take longer to settle.
Workers in the union voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to hit the picket line rather than accept the company's "best and final offer," which called for an end to the defined benefits pension that current workers receive and a switch to a retirement account similar to a 401(k).