America’s new F-35 fighter is a boondoggle. It’s over-budget. It doesn’t work. Worst of all, it has no mission. That last part is the opinion of this journal, but the Pentagon agrees with the other two points in its latest report on the plane. Its problems are so bad that the Marines may not get them off the ground as scheduled in mid-2015. Maybe, the Marines should stop looking for a few good men and start looking for an aircraft to replace the F-35.
To begin with, the Pentagon is terrible at cost control. Cost plus contracts and no bid contracts are the norm, and a child in the slow class could readily figure out why these are bad for economic utilization of resources. At $392 billion, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons program ever. That price is 70% higher than the original budget, and before this is all over, the Pentagon expects to spend $850 billion on it (the total long-term operating costs). One must ask what that money might have bought that would better defend America.
The stealthy fighter has another huge problem. It doesn’t perform the way it should. M. Alex Johnson of NBC reported last fall, “In a 16-month investigation that began in February 2012, the inspector general’s office — an agency within the Pentagon responsible for investigating allegations of waste, fraud, security lapses and other misconduct — identified more than 360 quality ‘issues’ with the F-35 Lightning II — with 147 of them classified as ‘major’.” And this week, Reuters got hold of a 25-page report in which the software performance of the F-35 is described as “unacceptable.”
Worst of all, the F-35 doesn’t really have a mission that justifies even its original price tag. Lockheed, the manufacturer, notes its air-to-air capacities as well as its air-to-surface uses. It can engage in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and it has command and control and electronic attack abilities that are world beaters. Unfortunately, Lockheed’s current sales brochure for the F-16 says much the same about that aircraft.
The Pentagon has decided that America must have the very best of everything when it comes to weapons platforms. While that is a noble idea, it bumps up against a simple economic reality. America can no longer afford the very best of absolutely everything because the state-of-the-art has become so expensive. The measurement is wrong. America simply needs equipment that is better than the competition’s weaponry.
And that begs the question of just who the competition is. At the moment, it is poorly armed jihadis who want to die in battle. It doesn’t require a $850 billion weapons platform to accommodate them. In future, a more conventional war may be plausible with any number of enemies. Which nation on Earth has the capacity to deny America command of the skies in any battle space?
The F-35 doesn’t make America safer. In fact, it draws funds away from systems that would help.