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The Military The Almighty Buck United States Technology

The F-35 Story 509

Posted by Soulskill
from the trying-too-hard-and-not-hard-enough dept.
New submitter phyzz writes "The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program aimed to replace several aircraft from three major military services with a fifth-generation model capable of short-takeoff and vertical-landing while maintaining the capability of sustained supersonic flight — all while staying affordable. The project has finally gotten some test points validated, but after a decade in development and numerous cost and schedule overruns, it faces an uphill fight against budget reductions. Bloomberg has an interesting story about the program's troubled past. Quoting: 'Ten years and $66 billion later, the aircraft is still in development, five years behind schedule and 64 percent over cost estimates. The Obama administration may cancel some models and also cut the Pentagon’s orders. The plane, envisioned as the affordable stealth fighter for the U.S. and allies, has turned into a budget target. "I’d blame the program’s setbacks on the fact that we lived in a rich man’s world," said Jacques Gansler, a former Pentagon chief weapons buyer in the Clinton administration and now a professor at the University of Maryland at College Park. "There has been less emphasis on cost over the past 10 years," he said.'"
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The F-35 Story

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  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:19PM (#37976442) Journal
    "I’d blame the program’s setbacks on the fact that we lived in a rich man’s world,"

    So, the development is five years behind schedule because the budget used to be too large?
  • Re:Solyndra (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:24PM (#37976500) Journal
    Military procurement projects never fail. They only get canceled by democrats who are weak on national defense...
  • by 0racle (667029) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:24PM (#37976504)
    I believe weapons development of this type was always done by contractors. NASA never built rockets, the Navy never built ships and the Army/Air Force never built planes.

    Contracting everything out everywhere has in many places got out of hand, but the JSF program isn't really one of them. The only thing I'm not sure about is if there were ever penalties for budget overruns.
  • by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:25PM (#37976518)
    F-35 was kept at F-22's expense because unlike F-22 (which is too awesome to share with anybody else for any reason) the F-35 is as much a diplomatic tool as it is military vehicle. The US obligated itself to its allies to produce this aircraft for mutual use, and not delivering it would cause a lot more international face loss than cancelling F-22.

    It's really pathetic that we are more concerned with playing political games with our allies than fielding the best equipment for our armed forces.
  • by chebucto (992517) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:26PM (#37976530) Homepage

    I was first really shocked about military outsourcing when I saw a photo of L. Paul Bremner III, the proconsul for Iraq, being guarded by a group of Blackwater people.

    How on earth is this justified - forget the question of allegiance and loyalty, outsourcing has got to cost more than using your own troops.

    What happens now seems to be
    - USG invests hunderds of thousands or millions of dollars in training for 1334 soldiers and pays them a civil service salary
    - Mercenary corp hire them and pays them double their salary
    - USG contracts Mercenary corp, and gets its own soldiers back and four times the price and one quarter the loyalty.

  • Re:Solyndra (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:26PM (#37976532)

    So when Congress Republicans are going to launch investigations about this failure like they did with Solyndra?

    They'll demand an investigation about the time the campaign donations, expensive vacations, and cushy jobs for their relatives stop happening.

  • by GodInHell (258915) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:32PM (#37976594) Homepage

    Our fleet is getting old, and our enemies are busy building 5th-gen fighters to beat ours as they eye their neighbors hungrily.

    Uhm, who's that now? China is the only serious competitor out there that's in the jet building game nowadays, and while they may be eyeing their neighbors hungrily (and hell, they've been on a steady 1 conquest per decade rule for awhile now), they're pretty economically tied into the current relationship between the U.S., Eurozone and China. Their oil supplies are extra-national (ours are native) they're a net food importer (we're an exporter) and their entire economy is based on export fever. They may be aggressive, but "enemies" is a bit much.

    -GiH

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:34PM (#37976612) Homepage

    The JSF's biggest problem: it's a replacement for things the military already owns. No matter how much more cost-effective it might be, the planes it's intended to replace have already been paid for. The spare parts are already bought and paid for and in the warehouse. The pilots and ground crews are already trained. And everybody else uses those same planes too so wherever we go we can be assured of finding support facilities that'll accommodate the existing planes. No matter how affordable the JSF is, it's still going to cost more to bring into service than it'll cost to keep the existing planes flying.

    And it isn't bringing anything to the table that the existing planes don't do. Sure it'll do in one package what you'd need several other models of aircraft to do, but it's not so incredibly more effective that you'd need fewer total planes and you still have to buy all new planes and spares and train crews on it. If you're tight on cash, you stick with what you've already got.

  • by Big_Breaker (190457) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:34PM (#37976616)

    It's the VTOL/STOL version for the marines that bogged the whole program down. It was just too ambious and when this became obvious the "solution" was to put almost all the focus on the Marine version to push it through. They should have paused the Marine version instead, met all the objectives for the convential and carrier versions, then come back to the marines. In 5 or 10 years we'll be smarter about how to do it, where the airframe can be lightened, how to put more thrust in the engines, etc.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:39PM (#37976658)

    It is a worse aircraft and almost as expensive if not more so now, then the F-22. It is also many years later. Had we kept building F-22s the price would have gone down.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:40PM (#37976662)

    The JSF's biggest problem: it's a replacement for things the military already owns.

    While I do agree with your point, I'd argue the JSF's biggest problem is it's designed for a war we're unlikely to ever find ourselves in. What need is there for a high-tech plane like this when you're fighing against a bunch of cave-dwelling terrorists?

    These shiny gadgets were born out of the cold war, but that's over. Does anyone think China would want a military confrontation with any of its largest customers? Do people really think Russia is likely to rise again?

  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:46PM (#37976744)
    I think the larger story isn't a troubled individual program, it's a federal government that outsources and contracts almost *everything* these days.

    The word 'drawdown' is the fault here.
    Let's say for a given capability, it takes 5,000,000 individuals. 4.5 million uniforms, and 500,000 civilian contractors. Along comes Congress, and they want to, in the name of votes, drawdown the number of uniforms on active duty. So down we go down to 3,000,000 active duty, Hooray! We cut the size of ythe military!
    But wait a minute. It still takes 5,000,000 individuals to run that given capability. So now you have 3,000,000 uniforms, and 2,000,000 civilians.

    In some cases, this is a good thing. I'd rather have a young airman out fixing a jet rather than wasting the day cutting the grass. So hire a local company to do that grass.
    But I'd also rather have active duty Marines protecting a US official in Kabul, rather than Blackwater doing it.
  • by radtea (464814) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:52PM (#37976808)

    Figher aircraft have traditionally run over budget.

    I read this thread just to find an idiot saying this so I could respond to it.

    Every time a large project goes over budget some idiot always says, "OF COURSE it went over budget. Projects of type X ALWAYS go over budget."

    This is nothing but an indictment of the idiots in charge of the project, since if projects of that type ALWAYS go over budget, it was as predictable before the project started as it was in hindsight, and therefore should have been accounted for in the budget projections. If it was not, then the project planners and the people who hired them are completely incompetent and should be discharged, preferably from a cannon.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:00PM (#37976916)

    The alternative is the company gets their 66 billion and either has to deliver the plane or the money back.

  • by demachina (71715) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:05PM (#37976976)

    I think the cost comparison needs to factor in the lifetime cost of a soldier. In particular a lifetime of health care through the VA and if you stay in the military for at least 30 years the fat pension.

      If you put in 20 years you get a pension equal to 50% of your last paycheck, or at 40 years you get 100%. So⦠you can start drawing a pension at age 38 and if you live to 90, which is increasingly common, you draw a pension for 52 years.

    As life expectancy and health care costs have skyrocketed, there is a rationale for outsourcing everything except actual war fighting, the benefits have become exorbinantly too expensive to have soldiers do house keeping work.

  • by Baloroth (2370816) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:15PM (#37977102)

    No offense, but a no large country, or country with many potential enemies (the first usually implies the latter), can afford to stand still in military technology. You always have to be working towards the next generation. Otherwise, you both can and will get crushed if you end up being attacked by another country that hasn't remained stagnant in military tech. Military technology can't simply be developed to fight your present enemy. You must look towards the future. Otherwise, you will be crushed. Doesn't matter if no current country would be an enemy: one could emerge practically overnight.

    The only case where a country could not continue to develop new technologies like these are if they know, with near absolute certainty, they simply won't be attacked. Otherwise, not developing means you simply look like an easier target for the next ego-maniac to take over a country. And as any student of history can tell you, with absolute 100% certainty, that will happen.

    Nuclear weapons do have the potential to alter this dynamic somewhat, since no two nuclear countries want to go to war. On the other hand, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System [wikipedia.org] could alter even that. Again, another example of military advancement which should hopefully never be needed, but which is still vitally important. You just know someone, eventually, is going to launch nuclear weapons. If we can stop that, we should.

  • by flyingsquid (813711) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:22PM (#37977202)
    Well, I wouldn't want to write off the possibility that we, or our allies, find ourselves at war with a large, technologically advanced opponent- perhaps even Russia- in the next 50 years. If anyone thinks that Russia's imperialist days are long past, look at the 2008 war with Georgia over South Ossetia. Is that just a throwback to Cold War expansionism, or a preview of and practice for things to come? That being said, it's probably safe to say that the odds of such a war any time soon are much lower than they have been in decades, whereas the odds that we'll find ourselves trading fire with illiterate farmers armed with Kalashnikovs and IEDs are damn near 100%, so it's clear where our priorities should lie.

    The other issue is, even assuming Russia does get their act together militarily, and even assuming they then try to throw their weight around a little, how are we going to fight that war? Odds are, it will be with unmanned drones. The Predators have proven themselves, again and again, against the Taliban in Afghanistan, terrorists in Yemen, and against conventional ground forces in Libya. And ultimately, there's no reason you can't just build larger, faster drones that have longer ranges, higher speeds, stealth capabilities, and carry a wider range of armaments- including air-to-air missiles- than current drones. We're already seeing this start to happen. They're now putting Stinger missiles on the Predator, which will allow it to shoot down other aircraft, and they're developing the General Atomics Avenger as the next-generation successor to the Predator- it has a higher speed, it can carry a larger payload, and it's got low-observability (stealth) technology incorporated into it. And the drones will only continue to get better. Pretty soon they'll be good enough that it will seem pointless to risk the lives of pilots, or a $150 million F-22, when you can send a couple of cheap drones to do the same job and not lose any sleep if they get shot down.

  • by joocemann (1273720) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:27PM (#37977268)

    The overall spending on weapons development HAS gotten out of hand, all proxies by which the taxes are blown included.

    When one missile costs the same as a budget for an elementary school for a year, we've got a few problems:
    1) The 'competition' for contracts is not real, and thus we are paying too much for too little from these few contractors we always use.
    2) The sum of projects for future weapons is far too expensive, with too many weapons being produced despite 1000:1 KDRs (I served, and everyone who has served knows how dominant our military is, and has been, even compared to 1st world armies).
    3) Too many weapons are being used -- by that I mean the 'benefit' we wish to garner in our EXPENSE toward many of our current conflicts that our tax pool could be much better appropriated to help the people in general (those who filled the tax pool).

    Military spending is Socialism. Taxes fund socialism, and that's exactly what taxes do. And I think you'd be hard pressed to find any significant number of 'socialist' minded people (those labeled as such for their expressed interest in funding other types of programs, like infrastructure, communications, health, and science research) in the USA that would think we need to raise taxes; rather MOST people arguing in the sense that is labeled 'socialist' are arguing that the tax pool be directed somewhat more effectively to the benefit of the people. Thus, when military industrial complex spending (not DoD or pentagon budget) is at 1.4 TRILLION per year, and this F35 program alone costs $300 BILLION http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2009/04/21/hackers-infiltrate-pentagons-300-billion-fighter-jet-project/ [discovermagazine.com] , people are wondering why the $8BN budget for the NSF is facing cuts, despite national funding of science being a major player in human benefit.

    If the amount of waste in any specific facet of social spending (taxes) were to determine how often you talked about that waste, nearly everyone, nearly every time, would be talking about military industry spending. I'm looking at articles that people are attracted to about $15 muffins that the DOJ bought and costed something like $12 million.... $12 million SEEMS like a lot of money to you or I, and so we are attracted... But thats a fart in the wind compared to the massive turd of BILLIONS or TRILLIONS being spent. 12 billion is a THOUSAND TIMES MORE WASTEFUL than 12 million. Paying attention at all to the muffins is a massive distraction (albeit justified) from what really matters. Like I said, if the proportion of the amount wasted, per topic, determined the conversation about waste, we would largely only talk about military spending budget cuts.

  • by Baloroth (2370816) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:51PM (#37977576)

    That's about 10 copies of the James Webb Telescope assuming absolutely worst case cost estimates. This is about fifteen times the cost that the Terrestrial Planet Finder would have been assuming it had been approved and then run over budget by a lot. It is about four times the cost of ITER, the next generation fusion reactor being built by an international consortium. It is about 1.5 human trips to Mars. It is about four times the maximal cost of the Superconducting Super Collider if it has been approved.Estimating the cost of the International Space Station is tough but this is clearly more than twice that cost. Most of these projects has been on the chopping block at one time. Two of these projects got axed and the Mars one never really got off the ground. This says something about our priorities and it isn't good.

    I mostly agree with you, but I should point out: none of those things help you if you are dead. And while there may not currently be any major enemies to fight, I wouldn't bet on that not changing.

  • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Monday November 07, 2011 @05:00PM (#37978536) Homepage

    Um, I'm being critical of the absolute reliance on economic values, for one thing. Though considering how over-the-top and melodramatic your speculations are, it's unsurprising that the critical tone of my post went past you.

    You're wearing camouflage right now, as you read posts on the internet, aren't you?

  • But for that mission wouldn't we be better off with just building more warthogs? I've seen A-10s with frankly insane levels of damage that come home, and when you are ground pounding that is what you are gonna need if you are expecting anything worse than goat herders. The A-10 can carry plenty of weaponry, take insane amounts of punishment and is affordable. We can use the B-2s to take out radar before sending in the hogs, might as well get our money out of those suckers.
  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday November 07, 2011 @07:11PM (#37979870) Journal

    If anyone thinks that Russia's imperialist days are long past, look at the 2008 war with Georgia over South Ossetia. Is that just a throwback to Cold War expansionism, or a preview of and practice for things to come?

    Given that the war with Georgia was started by Georgia (if you disagree, consider the reaction of U.S. if American peacekeeping forces would have their barracks deliberately shelled and then assaulted, and numerous servicemen killed, while in their designated area of operations - say, folk in KFOR), what does it have to do with Russian expansionism?

    Russia can barely hold what it already have (see also: Chechnya, where local warlords are effectively paid off by Russian federal government in exchange for token recognition of Moscow supremacy) - pretty much everything beyond that is political posturing. The war in South Ossetia happened only because the politicians would have been crucified by the electorate if they were to leave such a major slap in the face without a decisive response.

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