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The Lockheed-Martin F-35 JSF
September 18, 2013 9:04 PM   Subscribe

Will it fly? The Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons system ever developed. It is plagued by design flaws and cost overruns. It flies only in good weather. The computers that run it lack the software they need for combat. No one can say for certain when the plane will work as advertised. This Vanity Fair article investigates.
posted by wilful (80 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 


Problems with the JSF are old news. Even the test pilots who flew prototypes back in 2008 complained that cockpit visibility was so poor, especially to the rear, that they wouldn't expect to survive basic air-to-air combat situations with lesser aircraft. It's a plane incorporating too many compromises that try to make it suitable for too many missions; basically, another Space Shuttle, but one that's now grabbed big chunks of the increasingly limited operational budgets of all the U.S. military services.

And that's bad, bad news at a time when the newest F-15, F-16 and F-18 airframes all have beaucoup hours, and climbing maintenance requirements due to previous mission commitments. Not only is the F-35 not coming on line as soon as hoped, as a replacement for the aging earlier generation aircraft, the earlier generation aircraft are going down for fatigue earlier than originally projected.
posted by paulsc at 9:17 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Shoulda gone with Boeing.
posted by Artw at 9:28 PM on September 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


All we need to do is engineer a situation in which the JSF is Earth's last best hope. Four prototypes imbued with unstable alien technology would be paired with four troubled teen pilots, each subtly associated with one of the classical elements and humours.

In humanity's darkest hour, these young heroes would overcome their philosophical differences, their darkest fears, and their glitchy HUDs to perform the fabled Black Seraph Maneuver, save the world, and vindicate Les Alpin's insistence on a single cross-service airframe.
posted by Iridic at 9:29 PM on September 18, 2013 [48 favorites]


Always appropriate to link to Augustine's Law #16.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:35 PM on September 18, 2013 [17 favorites]


From page 6:
The company employs a stable of in-house and outside lobbyists and spends some $15 million on lobbying each year. When it comes to the F-35, which accounts for one of its largest revenue streams, Lockheed takes every opportunity to remind politicians that the airplane is manufactured in 46 states and is responsible for more than 125,000 jobs and $16.8 billion in “economic impact” to the U.S. economy. Signing up eight allied countries as partners provides additional insurance. “It’s quite frankly a brilliant strategy,” said General Bogdan, acknowledging that it is effective even if it is not admirable. Political engineering has foiled any meaningful opposition on Capitol Hill, in the White House, or in the defense establishment.
posted by wilful at 9:35 PM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]




Hugs are free.
posted by alex_skazat at 9:52 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The War Nerd had a nice article the other day (that I can't find just now) calling out a specific couple of Texas congressmen with large Lockheed Martin holdings, who seem to be driving the whole boondoggle.

I don't think anyone who matters cares if the plane actually flies - it's not like it has any targets.
posted by pompomtom at 10:04 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, they want to use this to replace the A-10, one of the most effective warplanes ever built. This despite the fact that the F-35 can't do anything close to what the Warthog does. The sort of slow speed maneuvering and weapons capability that the A-10 brings to the table is the type of thing that is actually useful to troops on the ground. Oh, and the A-10s are paid for, and there's a huge stock of parts sitting there at the DM boneyard (several years back the report was that a new engine would cost $110,000, or they could take one off of a mothballed plane, prep it and get it running and installed for $900. )

The F-35 program crossed the line of absurdity a long time ago.
posted by azpenguin at 10:06 PM on September 18, 2013 [29 favorites]


Imagine you're a talented engineer. Would you work for Lockheed? On the one hand, they pay a good 20% less than the private sector for similar jobs, you have to deal with an astounding level of incompetent bureaucracy, you have to get top secret clearance (involving harassing all your friends and family), and there are major layoffs every couple of years. Many of your coworkers are in their 50s and are just ticking off the days until they get their pension. Oh, and since the work is secret, it's hard to build a reputation or a network and have any chance of getting another job later. And if you're a foreign national, like 30 or 40% of US engineers, they don't want you. Many of their openings are only in minor metro areas where you probably don't want to move to.

On the other hand, most employees get every other Friday off.

I know a few very talented engineers who work at Lockheed but they are all looking for a way out because they're surrounded by nitwits. I don't think it's surprising that the project's is incredibly late and poor quality.
posted by miyabo at 10:08 PM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've read that the big problem was insistence that it be able to do VTOL.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:13 PM on September 18, 2013


Moreover, the fatigue and operational air frame loss I mentioned above are not just affecting fighter air craft. We're no longer building bombers, and due to recent operational/training losses, we're down to something like 60 serviceable B1-B airframes, from the 100 originally built. After the last operational/training B2 crash in Guam in 2008, the B2 "stealth" bomber fleet is down to 20 serviceable aircraft, and has major restrictions on foreign advanced basing, due to extensive maintenance requirements; all B2 missions are now flown from U.S. bases, and require extensive in-flight refueling and concomitant air tanker support. The F-117 Stealth fighter/bombers have all been withdrawn from active service availability as of 2008, due to fatigue in combat operations in the Middle East, age, and extensive maintenance requirements. The remaining B-52H and earlier bomber airframes, now approaching nearly 60 years in age/service, are generally restricted from previously normal air operations/maneuvers, due to concerns about operational air frame maintenance and fatigue.

"Hugs are free."
posted by alex_skazat at 12:52 AM on September 19

Hugs better not only be free, but effective, because, like it or not, soon we're down to ICBMs, Tomahawk cruise missiles and drones.

Not having a front line aircraft that can take the brunt of the medium bomber role, which the F-35 was also supposed to do, puts extra pressure on big bomber assets that are rapidly wasting away, for U.S. forces.
posted by paulsc at 10:13 PM on September 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


Artw: "Shoulda gone with Boeing."

No offense to you, Artw, but I think it's pretty much "six of one or a half-dozen of the other." The whole system has been refined to do very little more than milk the taxpayers for as much money as can be gotten for as long as possible.

Plus, Boeing hasn't been in the fighter aircraft game for a few years. Their previous offering? The P-26 Peashooter.

And I would argue that Boeing's JSF offering was likely only marginally better than the P-26.

And, yes, I know all about Boeing's acquisition of McDonnell Douglas. Completely different philosophies between those two companies, and it shows to this day.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:17 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Uncle Sam Buys an Airplane The Atlantic Monthly | June 2002

The notion of being a 'Fighter Jock' is too powerful of a recruiting tools for the US military to confront the obvious; the support systems necessary to maintain a person in a plane are not only a waste but are also counterproductive. You can pry their budget from Iceman and Maverick if you dare.
posted by vapidave at 10:21 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


miyabo: "On the other hand, most employees get every other Friday off. "

I believe that's only if you work 10 hour days during each of the other four days. I could be wrong, of course.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:23 PM on September 18, 2013


Thank God we (Canada) bailed out on this.

I've read that the big problem was insistence that it be able to do VTOL

This forced some horrendous compromises, apparently, that came down to forcing the airframe to be much larger and heavier than it needed to be otherwise. But even without the VTOL requirement, you'd have the same cross-service mission creep dictating ruinous compromises at every turn, with the additional selling point that the F-35 was supposed to be a cheap version of the F-22, made so with a large production run and extreme commonality of components.

No project was ever made cheaper by adding stakeholders.

That said, all the bellyaching about the F-35 sounds suspiciously like the noises made about the F-18 in its various incarnations, and the latter is now regarded as a very capable platform. No fighter rolls off the line at the start on-budget and without problems that get iterated away. The bigger criticism seems to be that the age of piloted attack craft is over, and thus the F-35 is a very expensive horse on the eve of WWI.
posted by fatbird at 10:24 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


So it's basically The Homer of aircraft.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:35 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


fatbird: " the noises made about the F-18 in its various incarnations, and the latter is now regarded as a very capable platform. "

I'd like to know more about this. I've heard it being compared poorly to the A-6 and F-14 in some areas, particularly range and (in the case of the F/A-18) poor close-range dogfighting capability. You'd expect the noises to disappear into grumble-and-get-on-with-it once it's clear that there is no alternative, just like it seems is happening with the F-35.
posted by vanar sena at 10:43 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


"... That said, all the bellyaching about the F-35 sounds suspiciously like the noises made about the F-18 in its various incarnations, and the latter is now regarded as a very capable platform. ..."
posted by fatbird at 1:24 AM on September 19

Eh, nobody but the Navy brass regard the F-18, even in its later "Super Hornet" versions as particularly capable. But as the age/maintenance/fatigue cost curves on earlier airframes like the F-14 caught up with them, the Navy really had nowhere to go, except the F-18, to keep its carriers relevant. For one thing, the F-18, in any configuration, is a notorious fuel hog, especially in supersonic flight, and requires extensive air tanker support for most missions beyond a 400 mile range. Navy pilots flying 4 hour ground support missions over Iraq from carriers in the Persian Gulf, would typically hit air tankers 6 times before returning to their carriers. And if there was any weather or other operational issue back at their carriers delaying timely landing, the carriers would have to launch additional F-18 variants, outfitted as low capacity air tankers, to refuel strike F-18s coming back, just to keep them flying in the pattern around the carrier, until the strike planes, and eventually the F-18 tanker variants, too, could all come down.
posted by paulsc at 10:44 PM on September 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


The P-26 Peashooter.


Wonderful name. Like the way the Culture uses excessively violent names for its offensive craft classes ( Torturer, Psychopath, etc ) to mark its disdain for their use, we should start doing the same with ours - maybe names that undermine the machismo of the pilots, or highlight their huge expense, like the F-35 Boondoggle, or the JSF This Is What You Got Instead Of 3000 Teachers?, or the F40A-WeenusBomberLite.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:56 PM on September 18, 2013 [23 favorites]


The JSF was supposed to overcome a lot of F-18 issues for the Navy, because it was a single engined fighter, with supercruise capability. By avoiding the use of fuel hungry afterburners, which the F-18 needs for takeoff, supersonic flight, and landing (especially for missed cable or "bolter" landings), the JSF was supposed to be able to put more munitions on target, more of the time, for a lot lower cost and pilot inflight refueling skill level, than the F-18. It's really the only reason the Navy even considered signing on for a single engine fighter variant, which they last did with the old A4 Skyhawk, in which Senator John McCain was famously shot down.

But engine development issues with the JSF have made supercruise capability, or even supersonic flight, kind of a moot issue for the JSF. Not to mention issues with undercarriage design, weapons mounting, etc. for aircraft recovery in the non-VTOL Navy version. Having a new fighter that may not be able to bring back aboard ordnance, when you're moving from 4 cable to 3 cable arrestor designs on your carriers, just to facilitate not having to dump expensive smart bombs, is kind of a major down for Navy folk involved in JSF development.

I could go on, but why bother? All this stuff is readily available from Internet sources, for those interested.
posted by paulsc at 11:01 PM on September 18, 2013


Moreover, the fatigue and operational air frame loss I mentioned above are not just affecting fighter air craft. We're no longer building bombers...

Seriously, they should just buy some new A-10s*, F-15s, B-52s, etc, and then move to a more evolutionary procurement model (maybe a tick-tock cycle like Intel uses, perhaps staggering new airframe designs one cycle with new avionics the next). Sure, they'd have to deal with more variants, but I don't think the current plan of spending twice the money to get one quarter the planes (and then keep relying on the old stuff) is really working for anyone (except Lockheed).

* My favorite airplane ever, since I was like 8.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:06 PM on September 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


[A couple of comments removed. We don't do the "revenge scenarios about killing/torturing people" thing here.]
posted by taz at 11:16 PM on September 18, 2013


"Drones are so much cheaper."

Eh, cost isn't the big issue, where drones are concerned. So far, drones can't do inflight refueling. Nor have they yet landed on a pitching carrier deck in heavy weather. Nor are they great at supersonic flight, or dog fighting, or strafing and close air support of ground forces, or stand off heavy weapons launch. Essentially, drones, while still coming along strongly in development, are still just crap at all the basic high performance fighter tasks the Navy, Air Force, and Marines keep specifying.

Great for taking aerial pictures and launching Hellfire missiles at terrorist gatherings, however.
posted by paulsc at 11:17 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've read that the big problem was insistence that it be able to do VTOL.

The situation is Harrier than I thought.
posted by ShutterBun at 11:17 PM on September 18, 2013 [20 favorites]


This is not a joke - this thing is going to cost about $1.5 trillion dollars over its lifespan. You read that right, roughly $5K per man, woman and child in America.

And of course all the risk of fuckups are borne by the taxpayer. Lockheed-Martin can screw up this project all they like, but it is simply impossible for them not to make huge great fucktons of money off this project. What sort of "capitalism" is this?

But of course the point of this stuff isn't "defense". If defense were important, we'd have seen heads roll after 9/11, when the "Defense Department" failed four out of four, instead of promotions all around. The point of the whole system is to funnel ever-increasing sums of money out of the taxpayer's pockets and into the hands of a tiny number of very rich defense contractors.

And those of you, who act as though this is a big, important, adult thing - you're suckers, plain and simple. No country needs a trillion dollar bomber program in times of peace... no sane country anyway.

Put it another way - the cost of this single bomber program, per year, is substantially greater than Iran's entire annual military budget.

It's madness. It's paranoia, the idea that the whole world is out to get the United States so we need as many weapons as the rest of the world put together. And it's a hugely profitable racket for a small number of psychopathic individuals.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:34 PM on September 18, 2013 [40 favorites]


posted by paulsc at 11:13 PM on September 18:
Hugs better not only be free, but effective, because, like it or not, soon we're down to ICBMs, Tomahawk cruise missiles and drones.

War is over, if you want it.

I'm not saying *I* know all the answers, but that huge life lesson we hopefully all go through is realizing that it's OK to be wrong, admit it, deal with the fallout, and learn something from being an idiot.

If this plane is a dud, then, OK: it's a dud. Why are careers being preserved because of that? How more evil can a person get? How's that helping our national defense?

"Let's put a big jet engine nozzle, pointing down, and this thing can take off like a helicopter! What could possible go wrong with that idea?" - Idiots!
posted by alex_skazat at 12:05 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"War is over, if you want it. ..."
posted by alex_skazat at 3:05 AM on September 19

Please make the approximately 1000 different groups now fighting in Syria, according to Jane's aware of this, immediately. I suspect you have a great chance of influencing the future course of whirled peas.
posted by paulsc at 12:16 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Plus, Boeing hasn't been in the fighter aircraft game for a few years. Their previous offering? The P-26 Peashooter.

Or perhaps the F/A-18 Hornet, since Boeing and McDonnell Douglas merged in 1997. I worked at Boeing around the time they lost the JSF bid, and the general sentiment from the engineers was a mixture of shock and indignation that Boeing had lost. They felt cheated. Not being an engineer myself, I can only add that Boeing's JSF entry always sort of looked like a nurse shark to me.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:16 AM on September 19, 2013


I believe that's only if you work 10 hour days during each of the other four days. I could be wrong, of course.

Not exactly. I worked at Lockheed's Missile and Fire Control (MFC) site in Grand Prairie, TX for a little while, and we did the every other Friday off thing. You worked 7:30 to 5:15 every day, with a 45 minute lunch (9 hours total), and the Fridays you did work would be cut in half, time charge wise. So the first 4.5 hours of Friday were charged to one week, and the second 4.5 hours served as the start of your new week.

MFC had nothing to do with Aeronautics, the LM group building the F-35, but everything I worked on or around had all the same overarching issues that we see on display with the F-35. I was only there for 10 months, and I'm very glad I got out when I did.
posted by I Havent Killed Anybody Since 1984 at 12:29 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm livid my government this week decided to buy 37 of these flying Fyras.

The dutch word for jet fighter is "straaljager". People on the street call the JSF "faaljager" - and "faal" is the dutch word for fail.

37 is fewer than the original 85 they wanted, but still. What a horrible waste of money.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:38 AM on September 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have no experience working in the airplane business, but did work for Martin and Raytheon and another defense outfit.

You have to be inside these places to see how procurement works. There was some nonsense at Raytheon, for sure, but Martin, before Lockheed, didn't do airplanes. They did some airplane parts, and a lot of accessories (like flight test data acquisition systems), but mostly, they sold space goodies... spook satellites, rockets (heavy lift launch vehicles), ICBMs, space probes, upper stage stuff. Proposals were a riot. Pricing, capricious, but with justifications galore.

Customers (USAF, and others) changed requirements, contract administrators negotiated new pricing, 'change of scope' was the favorite phrase post-award, and it was crazy. On the other hand, we made Galileo, Viking, and with leftover Galileo pieces, Magellan and these devices visited other planets. To some degree, these outfits are Dreamworks for real and so what if we spend some bucks? Mars, Jupiter, Venus! Woot!

On yet one more hand (hey, I am in the rocket business and now have three hands!) the JSF hails from the land of Lockheed more than the land of Mother Martin. One-size-fits-all might work fine if one mission fit all. Not sure that will or could ever be the case. It actually makes the advserary's job easier, since there is only one capability to defeat. You could make the case, too, that the JSF isn't a dog fighter since if you have to get close to kill something, you have bad accessories. The standoff stuff makes warfare remote. Cruise missiles can not only hit your building, they can pick which window. Real time remote observation makes dropping shit on people much easier, as do various forms of terminal guidance.

JSF should be judged on how it meets the needs of the warfighters and services, and not on its economic impact. The latter, however, gets a lot of attention. Even our own senior senator here in Vermont routinely serves up bacon and he's as clean as they come. I can only imagine how California and NY's delegations maneuver. Funny money, free for the asking and a little negotiation.

Maddening, when you consider how little other countries spend on defense and how much non-defense stuff we have let go to hell in the old USA.
posted by FauxScot at 1:36 AM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


What we need is a few thousand Raptors. Even the GOP are Keynesians when it comes to things that kill people.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:42 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the USA is running out of ideas, who is making the best military airplanes in the world? Which are the top three ones?

I stopped paying attention sometime in the late eighties, and a quick look at Wikipedia shows a bunch of countries building military airplanes.

If they made Top Gun today, what would Tom Cruise fly, and what would he be trying to shoot down?
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 1:42 AM on September 19, 2013


And as much as the thought of things whose purpose is to kill people makes me uneasy; agreed, the A-10 is a cool plane. IMO it's the one modern plane that approaches the P-51 in terms of coolness.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:44 AM on September 19, 2013


E.g.; accuracy.
posted by FauxScot at 1:44 AM on September 19, 2013


I feel DreamerFi's pain, as my own government has ordered a handful of F-35s to replace our ageing F-16s. The incredible price tag and project scope creep is one thing, but the trials for a new fighter included the Swedish Gripen and pan-European Typhoon, both more modest aircraft, but could probably deliver about 90% of what we will use the F-35 for at a fraction of the price. The game was pretty obviously slanted, if not rigged, in favour of the American alternative. We've operated American jets pretty much exclusively, and all our pilots are educated partly in the US, so everyone from the RNoAF involved in the procurement has pretty close ties with the US. And being a minor player in Nato we pretty much have to stay in the US' good graces.

But as a taxpayer I can't help but grumble that we could already have all our pilots transitioned to the Gripen and flying the delivered aircraft today, instead of pumping money into the JSF program like chumps.
posted by Harald74 at 1:56 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


But as a taxpayer I can't help but grumble that we could already have all our pilots transitioned to the Gripen and flying the delivered aircraft today, instead of pumping money into the JSF program like chumps.

Hey, if you guys don't need the F-35, you should just sell some to Taiwan. They've been wanting to buy the F-35 for a while, but the US has refused every single time, because it's afraid of angering China.

What are you gonna use them for? They'll just collect dust.
posted by FJT at 2:06 AM on September 19, 2013


It could be worse Harald74, the RAAF needed to purchase some interim fighters due to the delays to the F-35 pushing its procurement beyond the planned retirement of the F/A-18As. A competitive trial was announced, and then cancelled, and the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet announced as a stop gap. Did I mention that Boeing Australia's Government Liaison Officer just happened to be a former Conservative State Premier, and that the conservatives were in power federally at the time.

Frankly, they should have just got a bunch of Eurofighters. EADs probably would have given them a good deal since consortium members were, or were thinking about, reducing their own purchase numbers.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 2:35 AM on September 19, 2013


By avoiding the use of fuel hungry afterburners, which the F-18 needs for takeoff, supersonic flight, and landing (especially for missed cable or "bolter" landings)

No, the F-35 (and any plane doing cat launches) would still use afterburners (reheat for you brits) on takeoff, where max thrust is critical. I don't think they use it on landing, because first you have to wind the engine up to full power, then light up the afterburners, by the time you reach full power after a bolter, you're either flying or ejecting. I could be wrong on that -- the F-18 could well have a TOGA* like button that you push and it brings on the power in sequence, first to full, then afterburners.


* TOGA = "Take Off/Go Around." In a modern commercial airliner, you can hit the TOGA button and let the engine controllers deal with bringing full power on.
posted by eriko at 3:10 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The dutch word for jet fighter is "straaljager". People on the street call the JSF "faaljager" - and "faal" is the dutch word for fail.

Yeah and the real faal is that at the same time the fuckwits in government decided, hey JSF is a-okay, they also said that they're going to basically dismantle the welfare state because it's all so expensive.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:53 AM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


All the problems will be fixed once they get the fusion reactor working.
posted by crocomancer at 4:32 AM on September 19, 2013


lupus_y: And it's a hugely profitable racket for a small number of psychopathic individuals.

I can't help thinking the NRA is very proud of this program.
posted by sneebler at 5:01 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


What sort of "capitalism" is this?

The kind that works best for the capitalists?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:16 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Doesn't China make fighter jets? Have Wal-Mart ship a couple of thousand over and the problem is fixed, no?
posted by mikelieman at 5:18 AM on September 19, 2013



All the problems will be fixed once they get the fusion reactor working.


I'm holding out for space based solar/beamed microwave, myself.
posted by mikelieman at 5:18 AM on September 19, 2013


"Civilians unacquainted with the ways of the Building have only vague ideas about what it is the Pentagon does.  They think the real business of the Pentagon has something to do with defending America.  But it does not.  The real business of the Pentagon is buying weapons."

- Robert Coram
posted by dragonsi55 at 5:22 AM on September 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


This project just needs more Foxconn, apparently.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:26 AM on September 19, 2013


Hugs are free.

Not so. I believe the going rate is two pairs of nylon stockings and a carton of Lucky Strike -- same as in town.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:38 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Seriously, they should just buy some new A-10s*, F-15s, B-52s, etc

From where, though? It's not like you can just go down the street to the used fighter lot and pick up a few. None of those planes are in production anymore and all of the tooling has been destroyed. Considering all the mergers in the defense industry, I would bet money that even the blueprints for those planes are missing or under ownership dispute.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:40 AM on September 19, 2013


but Martin, before Lockheed, didn't do airplanes

B-10, B-26/A-26, Baltimore, Maryland, B-57 (under license from English Electric), and more
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:48 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The reality is that this will be the last aircraft of its kind. It doesn't matter if it ever flies right. Unmanned aircraft currently under development will have a larger performance envelope, be easier to deploy, refuel and recover, easier to engineer for specialized roles, more accurate in targeting, and cheap enough where we won't care if a few dozen get shot down... and this will happen in the next decade, not the next quarter century. Sweden is already retrofitting the Gripen multi-role fighter into an "optionally manned" drone-fighter hybrid.

Bombers, too... they will be tiny little unmanned things we send by the dozen halfway around the world to do the job one massive and massively expensive B2 used to do.

And, once laser weapons and railguns make their way to the field, that's pretty much the end of suborbital airspace as a battlefield, drone or manned. Point-and-shoot.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:15 AM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm livid my government this week decided to buy 37 of these flying Fyras.

The dutch word for jet fighter is "straaljager". People on the street call the JSF "faaljager" - and "faal" is the dutch word for fail.

37 is fewer than the original 85 they wanted, but still. What a horrible waste of money


I tend this view as the same kind of deal as when the Canadian government bought used diesel subs from the Brits. It was essentially a payment to get out of real military treaty obligations by instead being role players in training operations for the big boys.

So instead of getting actually functionally hardware you're really just paying a form of protection money.
posted by srboisvert at 6:34 AM on September 19, 2013


It was essentially a payment to get out of real military treaty obligations by instead being role players in training operations for the big boys.

The problem is that the Dutch have been eager to both buy crappy hardware *and* be teacher's pet (braafste jongentje van de klas) by taking part in every obviously moronic US adventure that comes down the pike. So we both have to buy JSFs and sell off our actually useable hardware (like all our tanks) to pay for being part of Operation [something] Freedom.

If not for that, we could've just as well shut down our entire army because what would we need it for anyway, a Belgian invasion?
posted by MartinWisse at 6:51 AM on September 19, 2013


37 is fewer than the original 85 they wanted, but still. What a horrible waste of money

That's because they got way too expensive per plane. They didn't buy less to save money I'm afraid, that would probably be too sensible.

Announcing that they're going to buy these things at the same time they're announcing to further dismantle the welfare state is immensely stupid too. Might even be dumber than buying the stupid non-flying aircraft in the first place. Though I wouldn't be surprised if the cabinet were to fall because of this. The PvdA boss (labour/social democrat) is getting a lot of flack for pushing this through.
posted by Marcc at 7:00 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


What sort of "capitalism" is this?

Socialism With American Characteristics.
posted by acb at 7:12 AM on September 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


If they made Top Gun today, what would Tom Cruise fly, and what would he be trying to shoot down?
posted by Doroteo Arango II


Well the literal answer is that currently the Top Gun guys fly the various F/A-18 variants and would probably be trying to shoot down misc. Russian or Chinese models like the Su-27 or J-10.

Fighter nerds will argue about this forever but I think it would be fairly uncontroversial to answer your question by pointing to the following (in addition to the US F-22 and F-35, which remain arguably the most technologically sophisticated if not the most functional planes in the category):

Russian SU-35 (currently being retooled with newer avionics to make them a "4.5 gen" plane rather than "5th gen" - think F-16+ rather than F-35)

Russian T-50 (Russian 5th gen fighter but plagued by technical problems much like the US F-22/F-35 are)

Chinese J-20 (China's new stealth fighter, and the most often cited threat to US air superiority in the Pacific)

See also:
4th generation fighters
5th generation fighters

Of course if Tom Cruise is too expensive the movie could just bow to the reality that manned fighters are on their way out and use drones.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:15 AM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem is that the Dutch have been eager to both buy crappy hardware *and* be teacher's pet

Indeed. The general accounting office today published its concerns about the promise by government to have four of the 37 we buy to be "always available" for international missions. They say that this promise, if it can be kept at all, will cause massive overruns in the operational budget, which, according to the same accounting office, is already optimistically low even without any international missions.
posted by DreamerFi at 7:20 AM on September 19, 2013


The PvdA boss (labour/social democrat) is getting a lot of flack for pushing this through.

They currently have 38 seats in parliament. If elections were to be held today, they would get 19. The other party in the coalition, VVD, has 41 now and would get 28.
posted by DreamerFi at 7:24 AM on September 19, 2013


The reality is that this will be the last aircraft of its kind. It doesn't matter if it ever flies right. Unmanned aircraft currently under development will...

All weapons -- hell, all military systems -- are interim, and it's been a long, long time since anyone made a new one without one eye on the next generation. That doesn't mean that you just keep plugging away at a bad idea, hoping that the next generation will come along soon enough to keep your bad idea from costing too much and/or doing damage to your own side.
posted by Etrigan at 7:25 AM on September 19, 2013


fatbird: No project was ever made cheaper by adding stakeholders.

Besides the eponysterical background, your point here is one I hadn't heard before but which rings depressingly true. Ouch.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:32 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


What sort of "capitalism" is this?

Late-stage.
posted by vibrotronica at 7:34 AM on September 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Why does it look like both China and Russia just copied the f-22 design for their 5th gen fighters? Is that just because of physical realities needed to fulfill the design requirements or have they both just hacked the American aerospace industry?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:07 AM on September 19, 2013


I would guess some of both.

It does go back to the F-86 days that American and Russian fighters look a lot alike.
posted by COBRA! at 8:17 AM on September 19, 2013


I also think the A-10 is boss.
posted by Mister_A at 8:54 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If they made Top Gun today, what would Tom Cruise fly, and what would he be trying to shoot down?
posted by Doroteo Arango II


He'd probably fly the F-35 because the F-14 in Top Gun had a notorious reputation for being a crappy fighter ( flies like a truck etc.) due to development Charlie Foxtrots and vested interests resonant with what we see here today ,but the movie was a huge propaganda puff piece for the Navy.
posted by Bwithh at 9:41 AM on September 19, 2013


Top Gun 2 was in development as a drone pilot movie, I read. Not sure what the status of that is now after the Scott suicide
posted by Bwithh at 9:44 AM on September 19, 2013


Those of you concerned about close air applications shouldn't worry too much- once the arms and legs are deployed it has a much higher level of maneuverability at low velocities.

Then, when it completes its full transformation, you have a highly effective VTOL platform/armored fighting vehicle!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:15 AM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Getting a single engine plane to have a Gerwalk mode sounds like a real pain in the ass.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:32 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


From where, though? It's not like you can just go down the street to the used fighter lot and pick up a few. None of those planes are in production anymore and all of the tooling has been destroyed. Considering all the mergers in the defense industry, I would bet money that even the blueprints for those planes are missing or under ownership dispute.

According to a random website and Wikipedia, the F-15 is still in production for export and Boeing is still getting new orders.

To get new B-52s, I'd offer Boeing money to restart production. I've heard many times that pretty much every B-52 in service is a ship of Theseus, where every original part has been replaced. I would be very surprised if there wasn't enough knowledge out there in the form of maintenance and support documentation and spare part designs to build entirely new B-52. It would be more expensive than if the production lines hadn't been shut down, but it should be heck of a lot cheaper to get an existing, proven design back into production than a new, unproven one.

Sadly, the A-10 would be harder, since it's been out of production for a long time and it's original manufacturer went bankrupt and its assets have changed hands several times.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:55 AM on September 19, 2013


FauxScot: Customers (USAF, and others) changed requirements, contract administrators negotiated new pricing, 'change of scope' was the favorite phrase post-award, and it was crazy.

The biggest part of the problem isn't that the defense procurement regime lacks control. It's exactly the opposite. News stories about $700 hammers really piss everyone off - and rightfully so. But the "solution" is to crack down on procurements and project management. The result is a massive bureaucratic procurement process that everyone tries extremely hard to to avoid. Subsequently, once a project is approved, here come the parasites, wanting to hang their own pet projects onto whatever has funding.

This is one area I agree with The Right - the simplest solution here is to starve The Beast. It's simply too huge to manage.
posted by Xoebe at 10:59 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


What would you do with a new B-52, though? They can't be used for nuclear retaliation, since they would get shot down, and using one to start World War III is a sucky way of starting World War III (ideally you want the first strike to reach its target). Their only other known use is as a raw materials delivery vehicle for jungle booby-trap factories.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:06 PM on September 19, 2013


This is one area I agree with The Right - the simplest solution here is to starve The Beast. It's simply too huge to manage.

Except for them The Beast doesn't include the Defense Department.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:23 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


According to Gilmore, the Block 2B software that the Marines say will make their planes combat capable will, in fact, “provide limited capability to conduct combat.” What is more, said Gilmore, if F-35s loaded with Block 2B software are actually used in combat, “they would likely need significant support from other fourth-generation and fifth-generation combat systems to counter modern, existing threats, unless air superiority is somehow otherwise assured and the threat is cooperative.” Translation: the F-35s that the Marines say they can take into combat in 2015 are not only ill equipped for combat but will likely require airborne protection by the very planes the F-35 is supposed to replace.
I love the military's dry humor.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:16 PM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


As an Australian I am very disappointed that we remain committed to 100 of these turkeys, if/when they are ever delivered, at a cost of up to $33bn. And we bought an extra 24 superhornets at a total cost of $6bn in the meantime because our old F-18s were getting long in the tooth.

However Australian defence purchases are just about as corrupt (though probably more incompetent) that the USAs. We insist on buying US gear rather than shopping around, basically because it allows us to suck up to our great and powerful friend a bit more. We don’t bother looking at alternatives from Europe as that would piss off Washington too much. So we get lumbered with disasters like this. And yet, our influence and our strong support for US middle-eastern adventures has paid off so well that the US refused to sell us F-22s, which was the plane we really should have bought.
posted by wilful at 5:07 PM on September 19, 2013


Please make the approximately 1000 different groups now fighting in Syria, according to Jane's aware of this, immediately. I suspect you have a great chance of influencing the future course of whirled peas.
posted by paulsc at 12:16 AM on September 19 [1 favorite +] [!]


Eh, I have raccoons fighting in my back yard, but I don't need a supersonic fighter-bomber to deal with them either. This is more about fetishism than "defense."
posted by klanawa at 8:08 AM on September 20, 2013


This is not a joke - this thing is going to cost about $1.5 trillion dollars over its lifespan. You read that right, roughly $5K per man, woman and child in America.

This is where the 1% really start to shine. Don't worry, folks, 5 grand of your taxes are not going to this program. On a per-head basis, the 1% do a lot more heavy lifting than any of us will ever dream of.

To put it in perspective, the Savings and Loan bailout from the early 90's was supposed to cost about a Trillion dollars over 30 years, but I haven't noticed anything unusual, apart from the "get as much as we can, give as little as we can get away with" attitude from Washington.

And on the plus side, all this money isn't being flushed down the toilet. A lot of it actually pays salaries for aerospace workers and such. That's good, right?
posted by ShutterBun at 8:59 PM on September 20, 2013


Keeps 'em off foodstamps.
posted by Artw at 9:08 PM on September 20, 2013


If they made Top Gun today, what would Tom Cruise ... be trying to shoot down?

Certain Thetans or Xenu.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:19 PM on September 21, 2013


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