April 30, 2012

The F-35, the “supersonic albatross”?

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:24

Foreign Policy has a feature up called “The Jet That Ate the Pentagon” by Winslow Wheeler:

The United States is making a gigantic investment in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, billed by its advocates as the next — by their count the fifth — generation of air-to-air and air-to-ground combat aircraft. Claimed to be near invisible to radar and able to dominate any future battlefield, the F-35 will replace most of the air-combat aircraft in the inventories of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and at least nine foreign allies, and it will be in those inventories for the next 55 years. It’s no secret, however, that the program — the most expensive in American history — is a calamity.

[. . .]

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.

First, with regard to cost — a particularly important factor in what politicians keep saying is an austere defense budget environment — the F-35 is simply unaffordable. 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.

At those prices, there are few allies who will be able to afford them — Canada clearly not among them.


  1. By the time the silly thing gets here – over-budget and way over due – it’s going to be a Brewster Buffalo in a world of A6Ms.

    And by ‘A6M’ I mean drones, and lots of them.

    Comment by Brian Dunbar — April 30, 2012 @ 20:43

  2. I’m starting to think that we should emulate Australia’s example. They’re still theoretically “in” the F-35 program, but have bought a couple of dozen F-18E/F Super Hornets as a temporary measure to keep their airforce flying. I’d argued against it before, as the RCAF isn’t big enough to support two completely different aircraft, but the Super Hornet has at least some compatibility with the F-18 Hornet — I’ve heard that about 25% of the parts are common to both models. For a decade or so, we’d still have modern combat capability and then we could start purchasing the F-35’s that are rolling off the assembly lines with (one hopes) most of the bugs already worked out.

    Comment by Nicholas — May 1, 2012 @ 09:26

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