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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 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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. [] (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.

  • 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 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.

  • Re:Solyndra (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2011 @04:28PM (#37977280)
    Yet it was well known Republican Bob Gates that pushed to cancel the F22, not the dems. BTW, I think that he did mostly the right thing. I do not agree with the choice to stop production on the ABL. However, the current dems that push for cancellation of lasers and esp. the railguns, certainly make your case.
  • 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 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 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2011 @05:36PM (#37978220)

    The A-10 was designed to get close to tanks and blow them up with a gun. It has to fly low and slow to accomplish the mission. Why do that when you can fly above an enemy's defenses and drop a bomb or fire a missile?

    Warfare doesn't work like that. Remember thesis-counterthesis-synthesis from ROTC training? Combined arms? If you have only one way to get the job done, the enemy counters that single strategy before they even declare war, and roll right past your Maginot line. You always, always, need more than one way to reach your objectives, and more than one way to get the job done when you get there.

    Good question, though! Not everybody has had military 101.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Monday November 07, 2011 @09:44PM (#37980808)

    Military pay and pensions are only "fat" when measured against the fact that most Americans have had those things stolen from them. Anything is immensely bigger than nothing, I suppose. I just love how our answer to this is to get angry at anyone who still has what everyone should have rather than to fight to get it back. Self destructive crap. I would rather have the money go to a human being who will spend it in his or her local community than to a contracting megacorp which as likely as not will take the profits out of the country.

Love may laugh at locksmiths, but he has a profound respect for money bags. -- Sidney Paternoster, "The Folly of the Wise"