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The Military The Almighty Buck United States Technology

The F-35 Story 509

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 /.?

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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 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 Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2011 @04:07PM (#37977000)

    It isn't a jack of all trades - that is a popular misconception.. It is a strike fighter. It's job is to handle strike missions.

  • Nope, the grounding order was raised across the fleet a few weeks ago - however, no resolution was found for the problems that caused the grounding in the first place. And a base specific grounding occured shortly after the return to flight, after one commander decided the risk was too much.

  • by demonbug ( 309515 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @06:51PM (#37979084) Journal

    Remember the recent Tanker fiasco... Boeing and Airbus fighting over pork with gravy while the KC-135 fleet gets older and older. And the new tanker is still YEARS away.

    This was again mostly the fault of the DoD. They ran the worst acquisition program ever. They basically issued requirements which Boeing and Airbus had no trouble meeting. However, they didn't really nail down the desired capacity for the new tanker. Boeing was told (by DoD personnel) that they preferred a smaller tanker; Airbus was told (by different DoD personnel) that they desired a larger tanker. Airbus easily could have offered a smaller tanker to meet the requirements; Boeing easily could have offered a larger. But because the Air Force's requirements were so poorly put together, it wasn't really clear what they wanted. The first round of the selection, which Airbus won, was decided largely because the Airbus solution offered greater fuel capacity. Boeing objected to the selection because Airbus received bonus points in the evaluation for offering more capacity - which Boeing also could have offered had it been clear that the Air Force was going to give bonus points for it.

    Not the only issue by far in the tanker competition, but it could have been avoided if the DoD had just spent a little more time figuring out exactly what they wanted before calling for bids. Just as with civilian airliners, I really don't think there is much to choose between a Boeing-based platform and an Airbus-based platform, and a purely cost vs. capability evaluation would probably depend on easily-fudgeable (or difficult to predict, depending on your mood) analyses of lifetime costs; adding in slightly different requirements for each just makes it impossible to have a fair evaluation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2011 @07:34PM (#37979546)

    That's why there's Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA). Witness all the retirees bitching about the lack of a COLA in the last two years because the economy's been in the shitter. Many of these retirees also work for defense contractors and pull in huge salaries because of their deep and long connections to the military.

    That's not to say life after the military is all roses. The military is now really starting to screw their own, VA benefits are increasingly difficult to get, doctors are more than happy to label PTSD a simple "adjustment disorder", cutting wounded warriors off from help they desperately need and ultimately dumping them on the streets. 23% of the homeless are veterans.

    Meanwhile top brass go to work for Boeing or Lockheed or Raytheon or BAE and sell fancy weapons systems that we don't need with money we don't have.

  • 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 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @08:04PM (#37979806)

    According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], the Harrier only uses thrust-vectoring for VTOL, not for higher manuverability.

    I see your Wikipedia and raise you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vectoring_nozzles [wikipedia.org]

    "Vectoring nozzles can also be used for "viffing"—e.g. a rapid braking allowing a chasing fighter jet to overtake thus bringing itself into the range of forward firing weapons. "Viffing" - or Vectoring In Forward Flight was used to great effect during the Anglo-Argentian Falklands War, where 28 Royal Navy and 6 RAF jets did not incur any losses in dogfighting against a force of more than 200 Argentine Air Force jets."

    It also says that there's little evidence that they used it for tighter turns in combat, but Harrier pilots have written glowingly about the delights of vectored thrust for dogfighting (e.g. turning inside other aircraft at low speeds and using the wing to hide the exhaust from IR missiles).

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter