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The F-35 is "a failure waiting to happen"

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 1:19pm
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

Here’s an oldie but goodie.

Last year, Four Corners — an Australian current affairs program — did an expose on the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, and their conclusions were ... none-too complimentary.

Like their American counterparts, Australia is pursuing a one-size-fits all solution with the F-35 at the expense of a more versatile, mixed fleet. And with up to 35 billion in taxpayer dollars invested, the JSF is the biggest weapons purchase in Australian history.

But like every bloated government program, the F-35 has suffered from numerous delays, cost-overruns, and more controversy than a joint session of Congress. Recent reports suggest that the JSF won’t be operational with the Marines till late 2016 or early 2017.

All of these setbacks would be acceptable if the F-35 was the superior, 5th-generation stealth fighter its proponents (and contractors) bill it as. But in most aerial categories, the JSF comes up conspicuously short.

See: Photos of the Day: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

"You have an airplane that can't turn to escape fighters, can't turn to escape missiles, sluggish in acceleration because it's so big and fat and draggy and doesn't have enough motor for the weight. My prediction is the program will become such an embarrassment that it will be cancelled before 500 airplanes are built," noted former Pentagon analyst Pierre Sprey.

"Every aspect of that airplane is a failure waiting to happen," he concluded.

Andrew Fowler, a reporter with Four Corners, said that "After nearly two decades in development, the F-35 is a multi-billion dollar high-tech war machine that is not ready for war."

This is problematic for a fighter billed as the "backbone of America’s tactical aviation fleet for decades to come."

Indeed, the Pentagon and its chief contractor — Lockheed Martin — are more than willing to plow ahead, ignoring or minimizing every structural flaw, technical glitch, and software problem.

Four Corners relays the story of Sylvester Davis, former software engineer with Lockheed Martin, who was transferred to another department after pointing out flight control software problems.

For those not familiar with advanced avionics, the flight control software is integral to the F-35’s operation. Without it, the plane doesn’t fly.

Even the US military acknowledges the myriad technical hurdles:

"Well let's make no mistake about it. This program still has risks, technical risks, it has cost issues, it has problems we'll have to fix in the future," noted Lt. General Chris Bogdan, Executive Officer, F-35 Joint Program Office.

The expose questions whether the JSF is a good fit for Australia, especially since it received a stamp of approval from senior military leaders without an open competition. I’ve long questioned the wisdom of replacing a mixed fleet with a “Swiss Army Knife”, a “jack of all trades" (and master of none).

Watch the video below.

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