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.

Weekend Edition
May 06, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Charles R. Larson
Being Gay in China, Circa 1987
David Yearsley
Skepticism, Irony, and Doubt: Williams on Bach
May 05, 2016
David L. Glotzer
Welcome to Fortified Europe: the Militarization of Europe’s Borders
Adam Szetela
Beyoncé’s “Formation” and the Boutique Activism of the Left
Bruce Lerro
Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party
Paul Cochrane
Hot Air in the Saudi Desert: a Kingdom in Descent?
Brian Terrell
My Visit to a Las Vegas Jail
Judith Deutsch
The Military’s “Securitization” of Climate Change
Phyllis Bennis
Kunduz Bombing: Proof the Pentagon Should Not Be Allowed to Investigate Itself for War Crimes
Chad Nelson
When Compassion is Terrorism: Animal Rights in a Post-911 World
Dan Arel
Making Sanders’ Dream a Reality Through Political Activism
Kent Paterson
Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Legacies of Immigrant Spring
Serge Halimi
Why Firefighters are Against Free Trade
Andrew Stewart
Green Bernie or Green Party Machine?
Binoy Kampmark
Yuri Gagarin in Space: the Politics of Cosmic Discovery
Hayes Rowan
This Naming of Things
May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail