FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Saga of the Joint Strike Fighter

by WINSLOW T. WHEELER

Remember America’s P-39 “Aircobra” or the all-purpose Messerschmitt 210 Hornisse (Me-210 Hornet) of World War II? Or perhaps the U.S. Air Force’s expensive all-weather F-89 Scorpion of 1950?

Everyone should. They carry important lessons. Each was an advanced technology combat aircraft, and the Bell P-39 was even low cost, relatively speaking. But each was also a dismal failure.

The P-39 was almost helpless against the Japanese Zero; the Me-210 – produced in considerable numbers ­ was such a disaster that German pilots refused to fly it, and it was fobbed off onto Germany’s “allies.” The F-89 didn’t even make it into the air combat of the Korean war. That a combat aircraft is “high tech” or even that it is expensive is no guaranty it will be a success in combat.

In the 1970s, the Air Force started to buy large numbers of the low cost F-16 to compliment the high cost F-15. Both designs were highly successful, but neither were what the Air Force initially wanted. The subject of internal bureaucratic wars, both designs, especially the F-16, were forced on the Air Force by a small group that became known as the “fighter mafia.” The aircrafts’ extraordinary performance paid off, both in combat and in the Pentagon bureaucracy. Today the Defense Department (DOD) seeks to replicate the F-15/F-16 experience with small numbers of the high cost F-22 and large numbers of the low cost Joint Strike Fighter (also designated F-35).

It is unclear, however, whether the F-22/F-35 duo comes from the tradition of the F-15/F-16 or the P-39 and the F-89. The F-22 is already the subject of considerable controversy, and it appears the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may be in for the same.

A recent report on the F-35 from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) tells a foreboding story. Begun in 1996, the program is already showing cost increases, production reductions, and schedule delays. Worse, the ongoing acquisition plan is to ignore the highly successful “fly before you buy” experience with the F-16 and to test the F-35 only well after full production has begun.

According to the GAO report, the current DOD plan is to spend $257 billion to buy 2,443 aircraft with the first aircraft becoming operational in 2013. This plan is already costing 84 percent more in the development phase than originally planned; program acquisition costs per aircraft are up 28 percent, and it is all taking five years longer than first thought. Moreover, the DOD plan has already reduced the number of aircraft to be produced by 535 aircraft. The report also notes that there appears to be little promise that the current acquisition plan will not experience even more cost overruns, schedule delays, and production reductions.

Nor is there any promise that F-35 performance will be what was originally promised. In fact, no one will know until well after production has begun. Flight testing will not begin until four years after production starts. By 2013 when initial operational testing is finally complete, 424 aircraft will have been produced. As so often happens with such “concurrent” acquisition programs, when the inevitable technical problems are discovered, there will be additional delays and costs to address them.

The GAO recommends that DOD delay most production until after sufficient testing has shown the design can perform at just a basic level, but the Pentagon has rejected that modest, even tentative, recommendation. The unfortunate result would seem almost inevitable.

WINSLOW T. WHEELER is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. He spent 31 years working for US Senators from both parties and the Government Accountability Office. He contributed an essay on the defense budget to CounterPunch’s new book: Dime’s Worth of Difference. Wheeler’s new book, “The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security,” is published by the Naval Institute Press.

 

 

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight.  He spent 31 years working for the Government Accountability Office and both Republican and Democratic Senators on national security issues.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail