The Saga of the Joint Strike Fighter


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.


Weekend Edition
November 28-30, 2015
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving