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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 elrous0 (869638) * on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:17PM (#37976434)

    I think the larger story isn't a troubled individual program, it's a federal government that outsources and contracts almost *everything* these days. Having grown up around military bases, I find the level of contracting with anything military to be very troubling these days. I remember back in the 80's when bases began contracting out things like food services. Okay, that seemed pretty reasonable. But I recently went back to an old base that I had once been stationed at back in the day and being shocked by how far this has really gone. Not only were food services, the PX, laundries, etc. run by civilians--but so was base *security*. Instead of MP's greeting me at the gate, it was a bunch of rent-a-cops. I'm not even sure the base *has* MP's anymore (never saw any of them). It would seem a handful of contractors and merc firms do pretty much everything now for the government.

    Thanks to the lobbying money of the Lockheed Martins, Northrop Grummans, and Blackwaters (or whatever the fuck they're calling themselves these days), we have overpriced weapons/aircraft programs that function as little more than cash funnels, U.S. embassies guarded not by Marines but by mercs, and a NASA that can't even build a rocket anymore without a Lockheed or Boeing to do all the work for them.

    So why should Lockheed Martin care if the F-35 goes over budget, or the MEADS system [bloomberg.com] turns out to be a money sink, etc. etc. ? It's not like a Congress that they *own* is ever going to call them to task for it. And they'll get a hundred *new* contracts to replace them. So why should it surprise anyone to see stories like this [slashdot.org] pop up again and again on /.?

    • by 0racle (667029) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:24PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:29PM (#37976574)

        Figher aircraft have traditionally run over budget. It has paid off, anyway - expensive aircraft have turned out to be very capable in a 'you get what you pay for' way. The F-35 is no different. Is there pork or inefficiency in some of what happened? Probably, and it would be nice to recover it - but in general a new fighter aircraft running over budget and late on milestones should not be a surprise.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by h4rr4r (612664)

          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 Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:50PM (#37976778)

            That is incorrect.

            The F-22 is a better aircraft at blowing other planes out of the sky. That is its mission, what it has been built for, and what it does. (Also, it is getting upgrades from F-35 tech developments. Fighters are always undergoing upgrades)

            The F-35 is a strike fighter. Its job is to blow up various ground targets, and it does this better than the F-22. Again, that is its mission and what it was built to do.

            It isn't worse than an F-22, it has a completely different mission - and yes, purpose built-aircraft /are/ better than other aircraft at fulfilling their purpose - that's why they get built. Not a lot of countries can afford to build pure air to air fighters. The US can.

            • by h4rr4r (612664)

              yes, purpose built-aircraft /are/ better than other aircraft at fulfilling their purpose

              Considering we are talking about the F-35 Jack of all Trades, Master of none, that is a pretty funny thing to mention. The thing was built to be everything to everyone. That is just a great way to make sure it fills no ones needs well and costs more than anyone wanted to pay.

              • by bhcompy (1877290)
                They do that to a degree with the F-15. That said, an all stealth air force is prohibitively expensive to maintain, imho. Keep targeted platforms like the A-10 that are the best in the world at what they do, because they already are proven to work, they are cheaper to maintain, and the F-35 will not improve or equal on what the existing plane already does.
                • by h4rr4r (612664)

                  Sadly they intend to replace the A-10 with the F-35. It will be a far more expensive way to kill tanks. As a bonus it will also burn more fuel to do the same job, while being more fragile.

                  • by afidel (530433) on Monday November 07, 2011 @04:42PM (#37977452)
                    Will the Army let them? The last time the Air Force talked about abandoning the A-10 the Army threatened to restart the Army Air Corps so there would be someone to fly the tubs. Supersonic fighters dropping bombs from 10k feet isn't exactly the same role as the A-10.
                    • by Teancum (67324)

                      For myself, I think restarting the Army Air Corps is a pretty good idea, at least in terms of making some aviation assets organic on the divisional level instead of having to request resources from a whole other branch of the military. Yes, I am aware of other parts of Army aviation, particular helicopter units.... which is where they were going to put the A-10 units if they ever got going again. Not into the helicopter units, but additional units organized along similar principles dedicated to the A-10.

                      Y

              • by Luckyo (1726890)

                That is a very silly claim. A fighter bomber is always going to look like a "jack of all trades" to the uninformed. The advantages of it over pure fighter or pure attack plane are extremely obvious to the informed however.

            • The F-35 is a strike fighter. Its job is to blow up various ground targets, and it does this better than the F-22. Again, that is its mission and what it was built to do.

              The F-35 is an overpriced piece of shit. I'd rather have the Strike Raptor [wikipedia.org] or some Silent Eagles [wikipedia.org] and maybe some more Super Hornets for the Navy. The *one* customer I could see throwing a fit would be the USMC who might take exception that being saddled with the VTOL Harrier for another decade or so. There were and are better options out t

            • by cavreader (1903280) on Monday November 07, 2011 @04:44PM (#37977482)
              That's why the US isn't selling F-22's to anyone. No doubt the F-35 shares a great deal of tech with F-22 but the F-22 advanced and integrated computer capabilities are better than anything you will see in the F-35. The F-22 is most likely the last manned fighter the US will ever build as warfare as migrates towards the unmanned aircraft doctrine. Unless some type of inertial damping system is developed the F-22 has already surpassed the limits of what a human pilot can endure. I have aways wondered if the US went to war with a country we have sold advanced fighter jets and missiles systems to how would the fight come out? I have a strong suspicion that the first time someone tried to lock on to a US fighter with an F-15 we sold them might end up seeing their missile loop back around and start targeting them or just plain misfire. The US black boxes most of the internal tech in their advanced weapon systems and requires all replacement parts and certain maintenance tasks to be overseen by US technicians. The sales contracts also include an inspection provision that allows the US to periodically inspect any of the weapon systems they have sold to the customer. After all what's the big deal since we are all good buddies and faithful allies. Why would anyone object to this requirement? The country manufacturing advanced weaponry for sale would be foolish in the extreme if they did not attempt to make sure the weapons couldn't be used on them. The French sold out Argentina against the British during the Falken Island war by giving England the flight control comm frequency and crypto keys to neutralize the Exocet missiles Argentina had purchased from France. It's not a very big secret that Thatcher contacted the French president at the time requesting the missile codes and making all kinds of subtle threats about what would happen if those codes were not immediately forthcoming. Argentina was sinking British ships with little effort and then suddenly they stopped using the Exocet's. And they didn't run out of them and the British certainly couldn't have stopped them with the equipment they had on hand. The British ships were very vulnerable to the Exocet attacks. The Tornadoes and ship defenses at that time were certainly not capable of shooting down an Exocet.
              • by Xest (935314)

                Sorry but your analysis of the Falklands is almost completely wrong, the only true bit is "Thatcher contacted the French president at the time requesting the missile codes and making all kinds of subtle threats about what would happen if those codes were not immediately forthcoming.".

                It's certainly not the case that "Argentina was sinking British ships with little effort" either, they sank the HMS Sheffield - probably their biggest score of the battle, with an exocet, though it took some days before it fina

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by hairyfeet (841228)
              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 @07:43PM (#37979630) Journal

                A-10 is a very good plane at what it does - it's the American modern IL-2, essentially - but its role is primarily close air support for ground forces. As such, it is intended to hit high-priority point targets, scoring individual kills, while within effective range of pretty much all AA weaponry one can think of (including various improvised stuff). That's precisely why its main weapon is a Gatling cannon - perfect for those precision strikes. In contrast, its bomb load is very meager, so it's not the right kind of plane for bombing missions.

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          Figher aircraft have traditionally run over budget. It has paid off, anyway - expensive aircraft have turned out to be very capable in a 'you get what you pay for' way. The F-35 is no different. Is there pork or inefficiency in some of what happened? Probably, and it would be nice to recover it - but in general a new fighter aircraft running over budget and late on milestones should not be a surprise.

          I think there are those who see these programs coming along and do everything in their power to create an environment where the development will go into overruns. Further, there's the build in expectation that it must cost an absolutely sick amount of money.

          The reality is, most of these fighters will encounter aircraft and weapons a couple of generations behind them, held together by cannibalised parts and flown by pilots who have more guts than training.

          If the Pentagon said, "We want a new jet, designed a

        • by radtea (464814) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:52PM (#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 Sir_Sri (199544) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:53PM (#37976820)

          Part of the game that everyone plays is they pitch it to the public under budget, and but then pay cost overruns anyway, everyone involved knowing full well that there will be cost overruns, but once you're 66 billion dollars invested, another few billion to get you out isn't that much.

          The other thing is: what's the alternative? We're having this discussion in canada right now. We have F18's. We are slated to buy F35's, and there are certainly other aircraft we could consider (the Eurofighter for example, or one of the Russian aircraft), or we can stick with what we have. Sticking with what we have is fine, but 15 years from now we may find it rather difficult to get new aircraft quickly if we need them. For the US it's not able to afford (nor would it want) 2000 F22's, so the choices are slim, buying 2000 eurofighters would be politically impractical, and the F35 is a better aircraft anyway. So options are limited at this point. Axing the project and starting afresh would set everything back, and be tremendously expensive - so the F35 project has to work at this point, cost overruns or not.

          • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday November 07, 2011 @04:00PM (#37976916)

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

          • by radtea (464814)

            Part of the game that everyone plays is they pitch it to the public under budget, and but then pay cost overruns anyway, everyone involved knowing full well that there will be cost overruns, but once you're 66 billion dollars invested, another few billion to get you out isn't that much.

            There are perfectly well-known processes to to deal with this kind of nonsense, so bringing it up as an "excuse" is like saying, "Of course the building burned down! It's made of unprotected wood and the workers are using blow-torches!" If anyone gave that as an "excuse" for an industrial accident they would quite rightly be looked at like the incompetent wanker they were, but somehow no one ever calls people on it when they use exactly the same "logic" in equally predictable financial disasters that no o

          • by Dunbal (464142) *

            another few billion to get you out isn't that much.

            Yeah, that's real easy to say when it's not your money. A few billion here, and a few billion there, and before you know it the whole country is bankrupt. Oh, wait.

        • From the beginning the Lockheed Martin design was overly complex and at risk of going way over budget. The Boeing submission was simpler and just as capable, but didn't have the sleek "cool" look of a conventional jet combat aircraft. I watched a documentary about the selection process, and was disappointed but not surprised at the way they selected Lockheed Martin. I think they would already have the Boeing entry in operation by now if they chose it. As an example, at least in the initial design, the LM ve
      • by gl4ss (559668) on Monday November 07, 2011 @04:22PM (#37977206) Homepage Journal

        what's different here from half a century ago is that usa government essentially contracted development instead of delivery.

        nothing ever gets ready that way. what penalty could there be for a budget overrun? think about it. the profit margin is counted in the development as long as it continues and the engineers will walk away if they're not paid. so the penalty would be losing support contracts for the machinery, which could go to any bidder anyways. but canceling means throwing away the investment, so the program is a hostage and motivation to finish isn't sky high, again because everyone working on development is working on development.. and there's no real war scenario so the deadlines don't really matter - anything can be tweaked to infinity.

        • and the engineers will walk away if they're not paid

          A government, or any "large coorporation" renting "talent" acts as a milk-cow. Often alot of money is burned in "processes" which are in place and have become too rigid to operate ^properly without outside influence: you have your internal taskforce doing jobprotection and learning progressively how to avoid to work too hard

          Whenever you contract a firm you can put in conditions as penalties. I've seen large firms burn cash in their "penalty period", with t

      • by joocemann (1273720) on Monday November 07, 2011 @04:27PM (#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 sphealey (2855)

        > 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.

        Both the US Navy and the Army built airplanes in the 1910-194x time period, and did so in part so that they could stay on top of manufacturing technology and costing to allow better management of contracted production. I believe the Navy has also built its own ships from time to time for the same reason, and it certainly maintain

    • by chebucto (992517) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:26PM (#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.

      • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:33PM (#37976602) Homepage

        We live in the world of pure economics now, where the only real motivation that institutions believe matters is money. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        It is fascinating that the enemies of the US right now are those people who believe in something worthing killing and dying for that isn't money.

      • by ByOhTek (1181381)

        In my experience, *MOST* of the government inefficiency we find, comes from private organizations abusing the government funds (thinking of them as unlimited), and the decisions by the legislators in those peoples pockets...

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          In my experience, *MOST* of the government inefficiency we find, comes from private organizations abusing the government funds (thinking of them as unlimited), and the decisions by the legislators in those peoples pockets...

          And that abuse is hard fought for by the very people who claim to be trimming the budget.

          It's called Bringing Home The Bacon and a time honored tradition among Representatives. B1 Bomber and Sergeant York vehicle come to mind.

        • by dkleinsc (563838)

          You have to remember that from Lockheed's point of view, government funds *are* unlimited. From Lockheed's point of view, cost and timeline overruns are simply increased profit. They will never, ever, be punished for failing to meet their contract terms, and they know it.

          People who've looked into the issue basically think a motivated POTUS could conceivably spend his entire term trying to clean up the cesspool of corruption known as defense contracting, and still wouldn't even come close to succeeding. That

      • by demachina (71715) on Monday November 07, 2011 @04:05PM (#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 GodInHell (258915)

      It would seem a handful of contractors and merc firms do pretty much everything now for the government.

      Hey now, they don't do everything. Soldiers get to do all the fighting and dieing, and for much less per hour!

      -GiH

    • I think the recent trend also has a lot to do with the demand for troops for combat related assignments. The outsourcing of some support tasks makes uniformed personnel available for combat assignments. It might be similar to the various womens auxiliaries from WW2 where men were made available for combat. When overseas combat deployments decline we may see a reversal of the trend, perhaps MPs back at the gates, etc.
    • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:46PM (#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 MedBob (96899) on Monday November 07, 2011 @06:08PM (#37978664) Homepage

        They are even "Contracting Out" the Active Duty job.

        The National Guard is supposed to be a Civilian force to be utilized by State Governors and as a ready backup source of emergency troop reinforcements. It's designed to harbor a large number of trained individuals who can back up the Active Duty force which is tasked with performing the operational mission.

        As it stands now, the Pentagon calls more and more upon National Guard forces for deployment into combat zones. That has the advantage of reducing the number of Active Duty military, and that makes the politicos happy. "See, we've reduced the size of the military!" Nada. You have reduced the size of the workload by sharing it with people that are engaged with private industry, to the detriment of the industries/businesses who must do without a trained and productive leader for gigantic spans of time (90-180 days+). Could this possibly contribute to a business problem that expands the recessionary tendencies? Do we need some kind of "study" to reinforce the common sense on that?

        We need to "right size" the mission to the Active Duty force that we have, or "right size" the Active Duty force to the mission at hand and leave the National Guard forces as a reserve force to deal with the inevitable coming day when the defecation hits the rotary oscillator.

        Oh... and BTW.... The proper mission of our military is to kill people and blow things up. It needs to be an awesome and deadly force to be unleashed upon our enemies with fearsome and deadly precision and effect. If people anywhere near our sworn enemies move quickly away from them because death is likely to reign down from the sky at any moment, then we will have achieved the intended life-saving effect.

    • by TheLink (130905)

      it's a federal government that outsources and contracts almost *everything* these days

      Of course, that's because many voters keep stupidly asking for small government, so the people in power figure out ways to reduce headcount and pretend to have "small government" while still enriching themselves.

      So be careful for what you ask for. You might get it. Quality matters more than Quantity.

      The next "obvious" step is the voters saying "No it's not just about headcount" and want to reduce Government spending and taxes as well. If forced to, they'd do stuff like give/sell off the profitable bits and

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:19PM (#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?
    • by MrTester (860336)
      No, were 5 years behind schedule because the governments response to that situation in the past has been "Oh. Well here's some more money. Let see if that helps."
  • by Cyberax (705495) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:19PM (#37976446)

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

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Military procurement projects never fail. They only get canceled by democrats who are weak on national defense...
    • Re:Solyndra (Score:4, Informative)

      by metiscus (1270822) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:29PM (#37976568)

      The difference is that Lockheed isn't a bankrupt company, financed with taxpayer funds, given under dubious circumstances. The contracts for the F-35 and F-22 are well known and derived from congressional authority. If you want congress to investigate the largess at Lockheed, contact your senator, but at least the F-35 contract was awarded openly. We don't know much about the loan that was given to Solyndra since the administration has refused a lawful congressional subpoena.

      • by iteyoidar (972700)
        "The difference is that Lockheed isn't a bankrupt company, financed with taxpayer funds, given under dubious circumstances."

        Two out of three is pretty close!

        (and the third is really a matter of the degree of taxpayer funding)
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        The F-35 contract was based on the fact that it looked nicer than the boeing aircraft. Boeing underestimated how much coolness factor goes into aircraft selection. They focused on things like meeting design goals.

      • by metiscus (1270822)

        Just so I am clear, there is quite [dodbuzz.com] a bit [state.gov] of openness [jsf.mil] about the history [jsf.mil] and current state of the f-35 program. Where [google.com] are the Solyndra documents?

      • by Kenja (541830)
        Its only not bankrupt because we keep on giving them tax payer monies under dubious circumstances. If we stopped, they would have major issues. But we keep funding projects that never get off the ground.
  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:34PM (#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 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:40PM (#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 Baloroth (2370816) on Monday November 07, 2011 @04:15PM (#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 gutnor (872759)

          I guess that the point that the GP is making is that the rest of the world has understood that big war confrontation with the US is not winnable and therefore have chosen other roads, as illustrated by the complete lack of efficiency the US have against the current crop of terrorist.

          So indeed, the army should not stand still, keeping the lead in big war toys is important as a reminder that nobody should try the US, but even more important is preparing to fight against the other vectors of attack.

          Put in

          • The bigger purpose is that those planes flying are pushing 30 years since they started production. Even the F35 is already 10 years old, with it's capabilities known and not actually shipping. What's missing is urgency. The need for these planes is in ten more years.

            The biggest thing these bring to the table is standardization between branches. Even as far back as Bush 1 and Clinton the need was seen for a 72-hour strike capability. Meaning they want to have more flexible missions so they can send teams to

      • . 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?

        The Pentagon would like to believe that. And to a certain point, that's what they are supposed to do. Historically, the US has been behind the curve when dealing with threats. Over the past couple of decades we've outspent the rest of the world many times over in term of military capabilities. That has given us overwhelming superiority for major conflicts (dealing with complicated political / military issues in stone age countries not so much). Somebody has to step in and determine when enough is enough.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by flyingsquid (813711)
        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 t
        • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:11PM (#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.

    • By the time the F-35 starts to come fully online (2020?), the F-16, which is one of those it will replace, will have been in service for 40 years. Extrapolating forward, that means we can expect to be flying the F-35's well past 2050 or 2060. I doubt we could keep F-16's and -18's around until then.
    • by couchslug (175151) on Monday November 07, 2011 @09:55PM (#37980896)

      The planes it's intended to replace are WEARING OUT. They are old designs and old fleets. Google is thy friend. New aircraft to replace structurally compromised airframes and attrition losses will be required. Flying hundreds of thousands of sorties in recent decades wears out structure, not just easily replaceable parts.

      "The pilots and ground crews are already trained."

      Training is ongoing. It's not terribly hard to train on different aircraft. It certainly makes more versatile troops and was one much more common. Airframes are less diverse nowadays.

      "The spare parts are already bought and paid for and in the warehouse."

      Spares buys are ongoing as is support equipment procurement and maintenance. Modifications mean many previously procured parts and line replaceable units are obsolete.

  • by Big_Breaker (190457) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:34PM (#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 perpenso (1613749)
      On the other hand the Marines needed a replacement more than the other services. The Marine version should probably be the last to cut, not the first. They have a unique need for VSTOL. Amphibious assault ships fill a very important niche and history has shown having Marine aviation near Marine ground forces can be quite critical.
      • by Rich0 (548339)

        Why not just have the Navy fill this niche? Why do the planes need to launch from a particular class of ship? Why do they need to land on improvised fields? Just what kind of war could having this particular plane help win that would otherwise be lost?

        • by perpenso (1613749)

          Why not just have the Navy fill this niche? Why do the planes need to launch from a particular class of ship? Why do they need to land on improvised fields? Just what kind of war could having this particular plane help win that would otherwise be lost?

          The reason the Marines have their own air is that Marine pilots are better specialized and trained for close air support of infantry. To become a pilot in the Marines you *must* first become an infantry platoon commander.

          Historically Marines having aircraft near the infantry has been critical. Conventional jets like the F/A-18 can not operate from the crude dirt strips that the WW2 and Korean era aircraft could. Having VTOL like the Harrier returned such a capability to the Marines.

          History also shows

  • by sbrown123 (229895) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:34PM (#37976620) Homepage

    “A lot of design compromises were made especially to give the Marine Corps the STOVL capability which, by the way, they’ve never used in combat,” he said. “And who says the Marines need a fast jet in combat?” said McPeak, now chairman of Ethicspoint Inc., a consulting firm in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

    • In Aliens 2, the marines rode in a pretty slow spaceship, well, compared to Star Trek. That is the future. Slow space harriers.
    • by 0123456 (636235) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:44PM (#37976698)

      “A lot of design compromises were made especially to give the Marine Corps the STOVL capability which, by the way, they’ve never used in combat,” he said.

      The British routinely used thrust-vectoring in combat with their Harriers; I'd be surprised if the Marines didn't take advantage of the same capability. Of course with the F-35's lift fan design I presume it can't use vectored thrust in forward flight?

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        I do not believe so.
        The normal F-35 does not have it either. Yet, another step backward from the F-22.

      • by AdmV0rl0n (98366) on Monday November 07, 2011 @04:44PM (#37977488) Homepage Journal

        The US Marines were the origin of the vectoring in forward flight move. This provides the old harrier with at least one move that almost nothing can hang with in combat. The brits took that and used it (I'm a brit).

        In the falklands - the harrier force had pretty much everything on paper against them. Their enemies had range, they had surprise, they had speed, they had superior planes within the envelope. The fact is that the Harriers did what they have always done. They did a remarkable job well beyond their supposed envelope, and worked in the most hostile environment. They have a questionable repair rate in peacetime, with aircraft going down. In the falklands - the fact is their had a fantastic record in terms of unservicablility - very little time was lost to them not being available. And they proved more robust than the paper claims of certain marine generals would like to paint - coming back with AA shell holes in them and 'I counted them all out, and I counted them all in' being famous words.

        This aircraft which started as a bit of a flying machine people did not know what to use it for, became a weapon system that had limited punch (its weight limits, especially in hot and high are very limiting) and limited range meant it had questions. But often overlooked, you could put the things in a field behind you and hit the enemy in front. Close support was never as practically close as with the harrier. And the fact is it may not be the best, in fact its had many cases where its become clear it was not the best. But its also been there, used, available, and in the action for a very long time. Its (or I should say it was..) a brilliant functional, cost effective chunk of weaponary that was very very useful to have in your pocket.

        The brits retired the joint harrier force recently, and this is supposedly for the J35. The J35 looks to me, a poor aircraft all round. Its a horrible mish mash of requirments and hashed up garbage. We would have been better off with a new modification program, or even a new production run of harriers.

        The J35 isn't going to be better and replace the A10, The Harrier and strike planes like the F16. Well, it is, but its going to be worse than all three in their primary roles. It will be worse at tank killing. It will be worse as a VTOL/STOL rugged cheap fighter/bomber and it won't strike or fight as well as the F16. In fact, I would put money on the F16 beating it time after time in AC.

        As it stands right now, at least in the case of the UK - there is a blindness thats similar to the pre-vietnam US fascination with missiles. The theory is that everything is tech based. So now you have UK fighter pilots being so under trained they are losing in dogfighting contests against Pakistani air force F16s while being sat in EuroFighter Typhoons - and all because they are not allowed to burn the fuel, spend the training time - or threaten the expensive airframes/flying hours..

        The prior comment about STOVL is relevant- because the harrier really is pressed in some situations in regard to load. Hot and high being a serious limit on its direct lift ability. This matters less if you have them on large carriers where take off and landing room is plentiful, so no need to overly cripple the flights / weight/ weapon load.

    • And who says the Marines need a fast jet in combat?

      Marine infantry says that. Perhaps they have a better perspective than Mr. McPeak has from his desk in Oregon.

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        I need a new Porche. Trust me, I'm in a much better place to see it in my driveway than you are...

  • They never learn. (Score:3, Informative)

    by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:39PM (#37976652) Journal
    Back in the 60s Robert McNamara pushed a "joint" fighter common to both Air Force and the Navy. Bean counter at heart, wanted to take advantages of economy of scale, synergy and the other buzzword bingo terms.

    Both sides hated it. Both Air Force and Navy worked hard to sabotage the project from get go. Navy insisted on side-by-side two seater fighter configuration, citing "visibility concerns on deck landings". Army insisted on ejection pod instead of ejection seats. And super sonic speed too. And maneuverability for deck landings too. By the time they got the specs done they got a "fighter" with thrust-to-weight ratio of some 0.5 or something, with barely better rate of climb and turn radius compared to even second world was fighters. The F111 Thunder Chief was a disaster even before it reached the drawing boards, it was a shame a plane with that kind of specs was given the F designation. F there definitely did not stand for Fighter. After sinking this, Navy got its way and got F-14 Tomcat and Air Force got its way and got F18 Eagle.

    That should have been an object lesson to any bean counter trying shoehorn specs from multiple services into a single air-frame. But they never learn, do they?

    • Sorry got the name wrong. Not Fire Chief, it was Aardvark. But rest of my recollection [wikipedia.org] seems to be correct.
    • by pkinetics (549289)

      I think you mean the Air Force got the F16 Eagle. F18 is the Hornet.

      Additionally the F15 and F16 designs were rammed down the Air Force's throat. They wanted nothing to do with it. Heck, they really didn't want the F16.

      Read the biography on Colonel John Boyd, who designed the modern day air fighter.

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      Gotta love bureaucracy, where even the secretary of defense is powerless to make a program happen.

      The solution isn't to give the bureaucrats what they want, but to tell them that if they don't want to do their jobs properly somebody else will.

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:42PM (#37976688) Homepage

    Building vertical takeoff into the thing was the big mistake. Historically, VTOL aircraft have not been very successful, despite many attempts. However, the USMC has the Harrier, almost the only VTOL aircraft that works. So VTOL capability was specified for the F-35. This complicated the design enormously. [youtube.com] (Look at the video, with all those hatches opening and huge nozzles deploying). I admire Lockheed-Martin for making that work at all. That's where the money went.

    The best fighters have been clean, simple beasts, like the F-16. Trying to combine fighter, bomber, stealth, and VTOL guarantees an expensive aircraft. Usually something important is lost, like range, bomb load, or turn radius. Or, most importantly, number of aircraft. In an air war, the side that runs out of fighters first loses.

    • Yup, the plumber wants a monkey wrench. The sys-admin wants a screw driver. The surgeon wants a scalpel. So the hospital management orders three swiss army knives. Same old story.
  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday November 07, 2011 @04:23PM (#37977214) Homepage
    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.

The test of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. -- Aldo Leopold

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