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Military admits F-35 is impossible to use, expensive, and an utter failure

Another typical federal project: The military has now admitted that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet, a decades-long project to replace the F-16, is an utter failure and must be replaced.

The list of basic problems with the jet are truly appalling.

In spite of its advanced technology and cutting-edge capabilities, the latest stealth fighter suffers from structural flaws and slew of challenges.

Most recent among them is a structural engine flaw and shortage in its production. The F-35’s engine problem is partly based in not being able to deliver them for maintenance as fast as needed, in addition to a problem with the heat coating on its rotor blades which shortens engine lifespan considerably. Defense News described it as a “serious readiness problem”, suggesting that as soon as 2022, nearly 5 to 6 per ent of the F-35 fleet could be effectively grounded as it waits for engine replacements.

Another challenge is the plane’s software. Most modern fighter jets have between 1 to 2 million lines of code in their software. The F-35 averages 8 million lines of code in its software, and it’s suffering from a bug problem. To fix this, the US Department of Defense is asking three American universities to help figure it out.

The fighter jet also suffers from a slightly embarrassing touchscreen problem. After making the switch from hard flipped switches to touch screens, pilots report that unlike a physical switch that you’re confident has been activated, touch screens in the plane don’t work 20 percent of the time says one F-35 pilot.

The worst part of this story is that this kind of incompetence has been par for the course for big federal projects like this for decades. Our government in Washington is corrupt and unqualified to even be dog catcher, but we voters don’t seem to have the courage to fire them. We certainly don’t fire the politicians who appear quite willing to encourage this corruption.

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    I can’t wait for that same goverment to run my health care! Oh, boy!!

  • Jay

    Not only was the F-35 to replace the F-16, it was to replace the Harrier, the A-10, and dare I say the F-18.

    So, “three American universities “… in other words there are now three new senior design projects.

  • Jeff Wright

    The sad thing is that JSF was intended to reduce costs. Boeing’s entry might actually have been a bit better, were it not for that little pop during hover tests. The idea was that we could not afford different airframes for different missions-yet much good came out of the Century series where many diverse approaches were supported. I would have loved the F-20 Tiger Shark. Maybe the B-1 R Arsenal Ship? That could be a figher destroyer. But the thing is-with HLLVs carrying rods from god-why do we need fighters, carriers and field pieces any more? No wonder the duties of the space warfighter were divvied up among other branches for the express purpose of keeping a lid on them. I think my state has a bit part in the JSF nonsense-but you will get no arguement from me if that money goes to Space Force-even if it moves to Colorado.

  • wayne

    “three American universities,”
    that would be the chinese communist party….

  • Alton

    Now we know why the Air Farce is starting a 4 1/2 gen fighter and buying totally upgraded F15 EX birds.
    The B1Bs be should undergo a service life extension with the Arsenal plan instead of sending two dozen to the boneyard this year!
    Anyone for making the F22 into the FB22 extended wing bomber version?

  • Mike

    Bob –
    The article you quote is biased because it fails to mention the fact that this aircraft is in operation now and has been flying successful missions for a time.
    In fact the Israelis have been all over syria as recently as last week, Flying sorties in and out of Russian air defense.
    While the program is expensive, I don’t believe any weapons systems we field are cheap.
    These types of “reports” are quite common in the military industrial complex, it’s how they scare stupid politicians into signing massive checks for new and improved expensive weapons systems.
    It’s akin to propaganda.
    I encourage you guys to look into what actual pilots and military strategists say about this air frame.

  • Jeff Wright

    They never should have killed the Tomcat. If anything can stop a supercav munition, Tomcat could-low speed munition release into water thanks to variable geometry wings to keep a counter-cav from breaking up at the surface.

  • Mitch S.

    Always tough to see through the fog of bias and propaganda but I’ll toss out some links with what I think is useful info.
    This is from the NY Times but it seems to be decently researched and written (hope it’s not stuck behind their paywall – I didn’t have a problem):,in%20the%20Defense%20Department's%20history.&text=All%20of%20the%20services'%20requirements,awarded%20to%20a%20single%20contractor.

    I think Israel’s experiences are important. Israeli pols and generals are as capable of bias and obfuscation as their US counterparts but at the end of the day Israel can’t mess around with stuff that doesn’t work.

    So it does seem the F35 is performing useful missions.
    Worth keeping in mind that the Israelis usually make significant tweaks and mods to their aircraft. I hope any lessons and improvements are being looked at by the US.
    But Gen Brown’s analogy stands – if someone gave me a Ferrari for free I couldn’t afford to drive it because the maintenance costs would bankrupt me.
    Is the US defense establishment capable of producing a simpler, affordable F16 replacement? Are the politicians interested in such a project? (Or do they prefer the pocket-lining opportunities of a drawn out, over-budget mess).
    In any case time will tell the story of the F35’s success or failure. If it does succeed it won’t be despite the critics but because of them.

  • MDN

    Four comments:

    1. Whoever thinks the F-35 is a suitable replacement for the A-10 is a moron. God help the ground pounders if they ever have to rely on this platform for close air support.

    2. The folly of the F-35 was pretending they could design and build 3 different configurations off of a semi-common core and “save” money. This imposed design deficiencies in each configuration and inherently injected excessive complexity that is the root of most of the cost and quality issues.

    3. Software complexity is tough, but eventually it will be figured out. Remember this thing integrates VERY sophisticated sensor technology and working that out is not easy. But the ability to communicate, track and identify threats, and if necessary suppress threats will be a decisive long term advantage. The entire point is to stay hidden and kill the other guy before he even knows you are there and stealth is only 1/2 of that equation. Sensor tech is the other half.

    4. In the 90s when they were debating and competing the F-35 program there was a counter proposal to pursue a series of “Silver Bullet” type programs a la the F-117 instead. The Air Force of course wanted the big ticket program so we got the F-35 and lots of industry consolidation. My personal opinion is the Silver Bullet approach would have been better as it would have delivered a diversity of more optimized platforms for the various missions, serious problems with one would have a limited or no affect on the others, as they would be serialized new tech could be exploited far faster in successive programs, and the multiplicity of threats these would collectively pose would make defensive planning for our adversaries far more challenging. In addition it would have kept a larger field of companies in the supply chain with a critical mass of engineering and production technology vs. forcing our dependence onto just a very few players, which imho was the most important benefit of all. As Bob preaches competition makes for better products faster and often at less expense.

  • A. Nonymous

    I considered passing on this, but there’s just too much *wrong*.

    Here’s the issue: the first 5+ years of the JSF program were awful. Terrible. People should have gone to jail (but retired or got promoted instead, of course). The requirements documents were full of contradictions (make it cheap to build, cheap to operate, but stealthy and crammed full of technology like sensor fusion that was so advanced that it didn’t even exist yet). The result was a total mess of a program that essentially cost the military several years in delays and cost taxpayers upwards of $10 billion in wasted cash.

    If the story had ended there, JSF would have been just like FCS, LCS, DDG-1000, Netfires, and a dozen other post-Cold-War programs that have wasted billions to little or no effect (caused in part by the Clinton Peace Dividend’s mass downsizing of the existing procurement system in the ’90s). However, unlike those other programs, JSF persevered. A new program management team took over, and started cracking the whip on LockMart and making proper program management decisions, including dragging out the LRIP phase to force LockMart to fix issues or face delayed sales and potential cancellations. Physical issues (particularly the weight) were largely hammered out. Software issues were never really showstoppers, they just needed more time and money than anybody had expected (which is a common thing with software; non-coders never seem to understand how much time and money is needed, especially when doing something–like sensor fusion–that has never been done before).

    The frustrating part of the story is that while the JSF has gone from “dumpster fire” to “redemption story” to “Hey, it’s actually better than anything else in the sky now (except the F-22, in certain conditions), it just cost us several years and several billion dollars more than it was supposed to in order to get to this point”, the reporting is still stuck in 2005 and few journalists have any interest in anything other than the long-established narrative. Even today, you *still* see claims that the F-16 beat it in dogfights, which was a clickbait story built around a (deliberate?) misunderstanding of the facts. You *still* see claims that the JSF program has cost $1.5 trillion (or sometimes they just round up to $2 trillion), despite the fact that over a trillion of that is estimated lifetime costs for the next 49 years. And you *still* see claims that because it isn’t designed to swoop down to tree-top level and cut loose with its cannon like the A-10, it must be worthless at CAS (against any enemy more sophisticated than insurgents, the A-10 doesn’t do that, either–we learned that lesson the hard way in ’91).

    There’s no nuance in the reporting, no facts, just memes and narratives. There are still serious problems with the program–particularly, LockMart’s ALIS logistics system, which has been so messed up for so long that the military is replacing it with a new system (ODIN) written in-house. But, how will a casual reader ever learn about these issues when they’re still being told that the $2 trillion fighter can’t out-turn a F-16?

  • To all,

    I am finding the positive comments about the F-35 here most edifying. However, I remain skeptical of this project, because of the track record of practically every single big government project for the last forty years: badly managed, poorly designed, expensive and overbudget, behind schedule, and in the end, failing badly to provide the product that was really needed.

    Even the positive comments have shown that these failings were and continue to be systematic to the F-35 project, even if some of its problems have now been solved.

    We have a very corrupt federal government, working hand-in-glove with corrupt big contractors. Their goal is not to deliver goods but to suck money from the taxpayer in the guise of delivering goods.

    We better start recognizing that, instead of making excuses for the messes that corrupt government has and continues to produce.

  • Chris Locke

    I hope those universities have the standard Confucius center. That would go a long way.

  • Robert Shotzberger

    Bring back the F-4 vastly upgraded of course.

  • Bill

    It’s far worse than that.
    This fighter can’t outturn even legacy fighters let alone modern Russian Su’s. 50% + of air combat missiles miss, then fighters close and who turns best wins.
    This fighter has obsolete stealth that takes extended ground time to maintain, its turn around time in combat is pathetic. Obsolete, because modern Russian fighters have IRST, works to 50nm +, doesn’t matter what coatings you use, you can’t hide a jet exhaust.

    The F35 was designed to operate in environments where it is protected by numbers or F22s under the co-ordinating direction of AWAC aircraft. It’s a launch platform, a pretend fighter. Tiny payload, tiny range.

  • DonM

    The A-10 as close air support weapon is obsolete due to shoulder fired heat seeking air defense weapons. The gun is ballast in most missions. Close air support uses guided weapons, and the F-35 can deliver those from distances where the weapons work, but the enemy air defenses are not effective.

    The F-35 seems to work. If necessary, the sensitivity of touch switches can be adjusted.

    New fighters are always needed. Ten years from now, one might expect improvements in enemy weapons, and if it takes 10 years to design, manufacture and test a weapon, you might as well have a constant improvement project, as deficiencies are identified, upgrades are designed, and the upgrades are designed into the next generation.

  • Gregale

    Has anyone bothered to check where the original article was published?

    TRT World is Turkey’s state-owned news network. Given that the US had banned further sales of the F-35 to Turkey because of Turkish behavior, TRT may not exactly be the most reliable source.

  • Benjamin Claggett

    I agree this sounds more like rival industry hit pieces that have been showing up since one company was awarded the contract. From experience in the industry they don’t sound like impossible problems. Yes, the engine might need work, but just make a better engine – that’s not really a “badly designed aircraft”, just perhaps a badly designed engine. Yes, the code is probably unwieldy, but you’re not going to solve that with a new aircraft, you’re always going to have that problem now with what you want from 5th+gen aircraft. And it’s software, so you can fix it, and you can re-deliver updates in perpetuity to improve it without re-designing the aircraft. Welcome to the SW driven world instead of HW driven world. Yep, HW solutions require less code, but good luck with your turn-around time for upgrades. Ask the F35 engine designers about that.

  • bob sykes

    The Russians have had 30 years to work on defenses against stealth aircraft, and it is probably that they have working, effective anti-stealth systems. After all, the Serbs shot down one F-117A and shot up another so badly it was scrapped. That was done using off-the-shelf obsolete SAM’s and radars.

    Russia’s own SU-57 is intended to be an interceptor in an integrated systems of multi-wave length radars, SAM’s, and other aircraft. (Much of the system is being sold to the Chinese.) It is doubtful any of our four stealth aircraft (F-117A still flies.) would be successful against it.

  • Rob Smith

    I would note the original source is a Turkish agency. Turkey got booted from the F/A-35 program after deciding to buy S-400 SAMs from Russia, so I’d take anything they have to say with a mine of salt.

  • WTP

    The logistics system for JSF, ALIS, is another money sink that often is glossed over as well. Horribly run project even in the context of government wasteful defense spending.

  • NotAF

    Spoke to someone who attended Red Flag a year or so ago. According to him the F35 was overwhelming and dominated by a significant margin. And no, he doesn’t fly the F35.

  • Andrew M Winter

    I’d analyze this one carefully. The USAF already has an fifth generation MINUS airplane. It’s called the F-15EX. So this admission of failure isn’t really. If it were they would be retiring the F-35.

    This is simply the realization that in most cases, Stealth is not needed by US forces abroad. I do not see anything in the original announcement, ,

    that equates to a condemnation of the F-35. Here is all he actually said about the F-35,

    “Brown acknowledged the F-35 is having engine wear issues, and said this will play in the TacAir review. The Air Force has the largest and “most mature” F-35 fleet, and is seeing F135 engines “failing a little faster in certain areas,” due to their “high use rate” and heavy deployment pace, given their relative newness in the fleet, …”

    That’s it. And he says the issue is “high use rate”. Oh wait if it’s such a failure how come it’s being used to death?

    There are other fantasies involved in the TRT article:
    “Russia is already fielding its considerably cheaper Sukhoi-57 5th generation fighter jet. While it does not boast the technological prowess of the F-35, there’s considerable doubt that the F-35 could stand up to the Su-57 in a one-on-one dogfight. ” This quote alone is actually insane

    Getting caught in a 1v1 “dog fight” is considered to be the ultimate fail in operating a Strike Fighter. You don’t want to fly a stealth bird of better than Mach performance in some retarded slow just-above-stall-speed turning fight. This is widely considered to be the ultimate in “stupid”.

    The SU-57 was first flown two years after the F-35. Lockheed has built over 615 F-35s. As of Jan 2021, yes just two months ago, Russia received its second SU-57 production bird. I am sooooooo scared.

    This entire TRT article is a part of the political movement to try to make the current Russia out to be a bigger boogie man that the old USSR really was. When the reality is that Russia may have some great innovative tech, they haven’t got an economy strong enough to allow them to syphon off enough cash to produce anything in numbers.

    And China is no better off.

    This TRT article just wreaks of smoke screen and politics. Here is the real pull quote from the TRT article,

    The study will parallel Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III’s Global Posture Review, and the two assessments will “inform” each other.

    “Right now, I wouldn’t say they’re aligned,” Brown said, noting this is another reason why he wants the CAPE involved. The TacAir study will require a lot of modeling and simulation, he said. The Global Posture Study will also lay out the “priorities of the department” and inform the direction of the TacAir assessment. …

    Read the sequence carefully.

    FIRST the political appointee to SEC DEF issues what he wants the study to say, THEN the Air Force Chief of Staff says, “Yes Sir” I’ll get that study that says exactly what you want it say as quickly as I can, AND I’ll add some other stuff to it from “Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation shop involved so the study will have credibility…”

    WOW talk about putting the cart before the horse. JEESUMS Crow. That whole process, even if it’s true, is just a giant political move with no real examination of a real Strike Fighter that is having maintenance issue due to a “high rate of use”.

    Gotta read both the TRT article and the AirForce Mag announcement from Air Force Chief of Staff.

    Now given that great glee that a Democrat administration will take in castrating the US military, this kind of cheap maneuver is only to be expected.

    And they already have the F-15EX. We have zero need for the aging f-16s as anything other than this.,

    The F-16 doesn’t NEED a pilot anymore to deliver ordinance. And there are literally thousands of them in mothballs just waiting for the software/computer upgrade to get them going. FYI this event was the beginning of this program, which is coming online very quickly, Loyal Wingman,

    And Western Powers will have more of these than Russia has SU-57s in short order if this continues.

  • fast richard

    The trouble with touch screens or touch switches is that they require visual verification for every action. I have listened to podcasts and audio books while driving a big truck for the last fifteen years. I find that players requiring touch screen control are extremely distracting. They require that I look at them and take my eyes off the road far more often and for much longer times than older MP3 players that had dedicated physical buttons for pause, stop, and play functions. Driving a big truck involves a moderately high level of visual attention outside the truck. A fighter aircraft requires a much higher level of visual attention. Taking some of that attention away from the critical tasks of flying and combat, just to verify switch activation could seriously compromise pilot performance and survivability.

    Touch screens are fine for cell phones, where the primary design goal is to deliver visual attention to advertisers by entertaining the user. For critical tasks like flying an aircraft in combat, intentionally distracting the user is not such a good idea.

  • Jeff Wright

    To Robert Shotzberger

    We had some great Phantoms here:
    the RF-4Cs of the Alabama, Nevada and RF-4 Fighter Weapons School were modified to carry the AIM-9 Air to Air Missile. These modernized RF-4Cs of the Alabama and Nevada Air National Guard extensively participated in the Gulf War; 503 built.

    The Turks still have them:
    These upgraded F-4 Phantoms are referred to as the F-4E-2020 Terminator. 54 were modernized and they will be in service until at least 2015 and perhaps longer (29 still in use as of 2019.) They first entered service on 27 January 2000 with deliveries to 111 and 171 Filo.[14]

    There was an F-4 variant that would have spooked Foxbat drivers

    Such a beast!

    Proposed high-performance reconnaissance version with HIAC-1 LOROP camera for Israel developed under the Peace Jack program in conjunction with General Dynamics. Water injection was projected to give the aircraft a top speed in excess of Mach 3 (over 2,000 mph (3,200 km/h) at high altitudes). The water would be contained in a pair of 2,500 US gal (9,600 l) conformal tanks on the sides of the fuselage spine. The US State Department became worried about developing an aircraft with performance similar to the SR-71 Blackbird and offensive capability beyond anything in domestic inventory for a foreign customer and forbade its export. The proposal was then modified to the RF-4X standard with the camera in the nose and removal of weapon carriage. However, the US Air Force withdrew from the project over concerns that a high-performance Phantom would jeopardize funding for the anticipated McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. Without United States financial support, Israel settled for the simpler, less expensive F-4E(S), which was given the nickname ‘Shablool’, or ‘Snail’.[15]

  • David

    I agree with the commenters who suggest that the criticisms of the F-35 are somewhat overstated. And I especially agree with the commenters who point out that this has been the story of most major defense acquisition programs since (at least) the McNamara era.

    Among the successful programs that have undergone this kind of /Sturm-und-Drang/ would be the M-1 Abrams, the F/A-18 Hornet, and the CG-47 AEGIS Cruiser programs. Yet I think it fair to say that these are nowadays considered success stories.

    I worked as a contract specialist and contracting officer for the Navy–Naval aviation, mostly in the missile world, and much of that in RDT&E–in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Pentagon did a study while I was there to see if they could figure out why everything took longer and cost more. They selected 33 major weapons systems–11 from each service–and determined that the average “cost growth” as they had then started calling it was…100 percent.

    Note well: the AVERAGE price increase from “let’s go!” to “here’s the last unit!” was a DOUBLING in price. If you submitted a budgetary estimate at the start of five billion for RDT&E plus procurement, you could expect that–on average–the final cost would be more like TEN billion.

    Now there were lots of reasons for that, but they were mostly not under DoD’s control: if Congress decided to stretch out production, cost would go up. If they decided to speed up production…cost would go up. If they decided to do one thing in one year and then thought better of it? Cost would go up for each change.

    And this wasn’t just some wilful manipulation by the contractor: anyone who’s had a house built from plans knows that this is just the way of the world.

    But that wasn’t the only problem. Oh no.

    In my day the received wisdom was that the initial acquisition phase–RDT&E and procurement–was “only” about 30 percent of life-cycle cost, while Operations and Maintenance was the remaining 70 percent, based on a 30-year useful life. This would be as if a $300,000 house could be expected to incur $700,000 in utilities and maintenance over the next thirty years…or an average of nearly $3,000 a month!

    So there came a point in which the Navy realized that O&M was eating them alive. So they made a grand plan to “neck down” as the expression was from however many fixed-wing airframes they had–F-14, F/A-18, S-3, A-6E, EA-6B, KA-6D, A-7, and no doubt others–to as few as possible–one if possible, two at most. Initially this was to be done by creating more F/A-18 variants, which was in fact accomplished in part, but the ultimate intent was to maximize commonality from the start while incorporating advanced technologies including low-observability.

    But of course everything in life has tradeoffs. By using common airframes and common avionics, you had to accept that you wouldn’t get the best capabilities. On its best day, the F/A-18 was never going to carry as much air-to-mud ordnance as the A-6E. Nor was it going to be able to engage the Bad Guys at the same ranges as the F-14 carrying AIM-54C Phoenix. But it is nevertheless a fact that it took one-third the time to swap out an engine for maintenance on the F/A-18 as on the F-14, because even the original version of the F/A-18 was designed for maintainability in a way the F-14 never was. And of course, fewer training hours to learn how to maintain different kinds of engines.

    Bottom line: procurement decisions are rarely made in a vacuum, and consideration has to be given to the larger procurement and operational environment…as well, of course, as the political one.

  • Georg Felis

    The F-35 is in the same position every other fighter/bomber has been when first introduced and placed into operation. The list of bugs beaten out of the F-15/F-16/F-14/F-18 are similarly staggering during the same early timeframe, some of which never did get resolved, such as the general issues with the F-14s Phoenix missile, or the F-14 wing complexity/wear issues. Still, a dozen F-35 fighters put up against a similar number of any nation’s fighter fleet will turn them into confetti, remain untouched in the enemies Air-Defense zone, allow sensor data to be directed back for other allied forces to use for their own strikes, and generally do things no other fighter on the face of the planet can do, even if the pilot has to jab a stubborn button on their display several times to make it click.

    That’s not to say they are perfect designs. A twin-engine kit-bashed model has already been put together to see about filling the F-22 hole in their performance, and they’ll never have the same loiter or damage resistance that a mud-mover like the A-10 has by default, but they don’t *have* to be like that. They’re already multi-purposed to about the design limits, so let the F-35 Twin get developed for long-range supercruise interceptions, and re-engine the A-10 for the CAS role (Heck, 90% of the A-10 is rebuilt anyway, so they might as well just open up a production line and crank out a set of new ones with the same damage-sponge capacity and less duct tape while they’re replacing the engines.)

  • eddie willers

    So, “three American universities “… in other words there are now three new senior design projects.

    Let’s hope they are not afraid to use racist math.

  • commodude

    Ref the F-117 shootdown….

    That was poor mission planning leading to the inevitable. If you take a LO platform, designed for night operations and use it for daylight bombing raids day after day using the same mission profile and route, it’s going to get shot down. It wasn’t any magic, it was failure on the part of the mission planners and hubris regarding the threat.

    There have been many, many discussions in other forums regarding this article, and most input from people in the loop is that it’s an overblown, overly pessimistic view of the program. Does it have massive cost overruns? Yep…..however, unlike the LCS and FCS, which were utter failures form conception, the F-35 has evolved from vaporware to something that the people who live on the pointy end of things, the Israeli Defense Forces, are using. If the Israelis haven’t backed out of the program, I’m not worried about the issues.

    Most of the issues raised are answered here in an article from almost 2 years ago:

    I’m as quick as anyone to trash the puzzle palace’s procurement process, having dealt with a few deployments of not ready for prime time systems, but the F-35 appears to be progressing just like most other aircraft purchases. Teething problems and cost overruns in the beginning, but give it time to get fixed.

  • Lee Stevenson

    I will admit that I kinda skimmed read the comments here, so excuse me if I missed something, but isn’t this conversation kinda mute? Given current technology, I would be very surprised if there are any manned fighters in a decade. You can argue over the plusses and minuses of current fighter technology all you like. An unmanned machine can pull more Gs than a human body can take, and is more accurate… There will be no more fighter pilots within this decade. I’m not sure of many things, but this is one thing I am!

  • Max

    Ref the F-117 shootdown…

    “Four decommissioned F-117s were secretly deployed to the Middle East in 2017 to launch surgical strikes. The reason for the deployment was simple; Russia and Syria had shut down Syrian airspace by mid-2016. The U.S.-led coalition was unwilling to lose a fifth-generation aircraft to Russia’s S-400 missile systems in Syria.”

    Comments on this site are impressive. Amount of knowledge from expertise in a lifetime of familiarity.

  • pzatchok

    I agree that fighter pilots will be taken over by drones but someone needs to be close by the command them.

    Anything more than a second or two in time lag gets to be a problem in combat.

    A two man command fighter would be nice. Someone to fly and someone to command the drones.

  • Lee Stevenson

    @pzatchok, autonomous fighters can already kick human ass in simulation, real life can’t be far behind… And I’d bet next month’s pay check that the US, China, and Russia have autonomous fighters far down the pipeline…. Like I said, before this decade is done we will see wars fought by robots rather than humans…. Drone swarms, self piloting fighters, automated ground attack robots… All this tech is almost possible in the private sector right now, how far advanced must the various “skunk works” of nations that can afford such programs be?

  • From self-driving cars to offensive drone swarms – and despite the speeds of machines’ OODA loops – using what passes for artificial intelligence in a highly-dynamic threat environment suffers from limits on situational awareness (both in real-time and in anticipating the full threat environment during software development), and the potential for any error cascading into runaway malfunctions that themselves threaten our interests if not our lives.

    Humans in the loop still adapt to changes in situation, in a more reliable manner.

    As for the F-35, this does look like someone is spreading FUD to discredit it, though the government and its contractors as always find ways to fail to deliver as advertised, thanks to efforts to go beyond what was advertised leading to mission creep that proves the adage “the best is the enemy of the good.”

    To be fair, though, there is a legitimate motivation for such mission creep in American weapons-system development – we value the lives of our pilots highly, which leads us towards making more complex weapons that hold the promise of putting our pilots at less risk. There is a balance that must be struck, similar to that between fielding Tiger tanks that were high-maintenance and slow vs. Shermans that would turn into pyres when hit.

  • Luke

    The F35 was poorly conceived, continues to be an albatross, and will continue sucking assets from more effective, more effecient uses of those limited resources for the foreseeable future.

    The simple facts are:
    There is no shortage of would-be fighter jocks.
    The capabilities of airframes exceeded what the human pilot could absorb nearly fifty years ago.
    Stealth tech has rapidly diminishing returns that quickly start to compromise performance.
    Countermeasures to stealth are advancing quickly.
    Complexity increases maintenance.
    Close Air Support and Air Superiority missions are fundamentally different.
    Specialist airframes perform better in their specialties than generalist airframes.
    Fewer planes means the force is less resilient, that fewer missions can be flown, and that the missions that are flown will heavily weighted towards the service’s institutional bias (air supremacy for the zoomies, carrier protection for the squids).

    Heck, you now have the Marines cannibalizing their armor to keep paying for the F35. (Which the Navy is going to seize operational control over the moment they feel their carriers are threatened.)
    How much better off would they be if they’d just gone with a slightly modernized version of Rutan’s Mudskipper project? Even if they’d had to modify the Tripoli and America beyond what they had to with the F35 (a very questionable if). For a much better CAS platform, that’s less susceptible to heat seeking missiles (because turboprop), is somewhat stealthy, is easier to maintain, and a very small fraction of the cost?

    Of course, even the Air Force would likely be better off upgrading the computers and sensors on the F16 and F15. When most of the defenders of the F35 talking about how improved avionics make the new bird able to compete or beat the old ones, it raises the question of ‘why not just improve the avionics on the old ones?”

  • pzatchok

    The older weapon systems are getting the latest upgrades. Its just that in some cases there is just not enough room for the new stuff.

    They have been working on fighter/bomber drones for years. With the same flight capabilities as the piloted fighters.( altitude.speed and weapons.
    They are trying to make it a 1 piloted aircraft the 3 or 4 accompanying drones. the drone carry the extra armament and take instructions from the piloted craft. You always want a real person making the real time decisions on targets in a fluid environment.

    The Army is working on the same idea for ground vehicles like tanks and the Navy is thinking(just thinking so far)about the same thing for small anti ship vessels. A small vessel can do more than a missile can.

  • commodude

    USMC isn’t cannibalizing their armor to pay for F-35, they’re changing their mission planning as part of a constant ongoing threat review.

    It’s ill conceived, but it’s part of a review of strategic posture as opposed to being a budgetary issue due to the F-35. Marine aircraft on a carrier are OPCON’d to the Navy (which is their opcon control anyway, USMC is part of the department of the Navy) as a matter of course. They have a different tactical mission at times, however, they’re still under the control of CAG when deployed on ship.

    Not arguing that the one airframe does it all concept is anything but a miss, but keep the arguments germane to the issue, as opposed to bringing red herrings into the discussion.

  • Mitch S.

    Luke asked: ” it raises the question of ‘why not just improve the avionics on the old ones?”

    Does seem that by Gen Brown’s words and reports from Israel and other users, the F35 has shown useful capabilities.
    But as Brown says, it’s too darn expensive to maintain a large fleet so now we need a simpler/less expensive fighter.
    Deja-vu! Twenty years ago the F35 was supposed to be the economical replacement for the F16 because the F22 was too expensive to buy and maintain.
    Now we’ll have to buy updated F16s because the F35 is too expensive!
    So the F35 has failed it’s primary mission.

    So we get to Luke’s question. It applies today and also applied 25 years ago. ( A lot of the plane’s capabilities are in the weapons and pods stuck in or on it).

    If you could go back in time knowing what we know now… My quick take is some more F22’s for the stealth intercept/penetration and more F16 types with upgradable avionics (the F16XL and F15SE were proposed back then). The Navy would keep F14’s a while longer, upgrade F18, and introduce stealth drones. The Marines and Brits would still need a Harrier replacement. F35B does look like a big improvement over Harrier and without the other requirements, the F35 STOVL would likely be easier/cheaper to develop (maybe Boeing’s proposal would have won).

    And today? I just don’t trust the Gov’t/contractor nexus is capable of running a program that can produce a “simple” product anywhere near the needed cost and timeline. Gen Brown’s proposal sounds good but I fear 25 years from now we’ll just be rolling those planes out and they’ll be too outdated and expensive to be useful. Perhaps better to buy an existing plane (F18, Typhoon?).
    Keep the F22’s we have going, and look into unmanned options initially to supplement/assist the smaller F35 fleet and the simpler fighters…
    Just kicking out some thoughts.

  • Jerry E Greenwood

    Bob, I just drilled down through the original article this was based on and it’s multiple referenced articles which themselves are based on other articles. You should try it. “Chinese Whispers” is a learning tool used to show how a story changes the more times it is told. This subject is a classic example.

  • pzatchok

    back in 2017

    Any aircraft that is wire guided can have a computer added and be flown as a drone cheaply.
    This simple and cheap process gives us possibly a thousand combat capable drones.

  • B. Nonymous

    As to the F-35 engine problems, Pratt & Whitney got G.E. kicked off of the program. There was to be a G.E engine, the F-136 for the F-35. The G.E. engine would probably have been better. The background for that statement is that P&W was the original supplier to the F-16. Later in the F-16 program a G.E. engine was installed (requiring airframe modifications). The G.E. engine outperformed the P&W and forced P&W to improve their engine to keep from losing future sales on the F-16. Now P&W is the only supplier on the F-35 and is lazy. The P&W engine cost the Air Force one airplane at Eglin AFB when the engine did some sort of self destruct, caught on fire and caused extensive, unrepairable damage. Fortunately the airplane was not airborne but was taxiing.

  • Jeff Wright

    Having different types of planes still makes sense. Now the Soviets lost the Moon race because of too many competing designs and not enough dough-where we got behind the Saturns and out-Sovieted them? Musk runs a firm hand, but I digress.
    I say have jet drones follow a B-1 R fighter destroyer with Phoenix missiles

  • Jeff Wright

    One last dig: Even broke North Korea can field a simple proto-ICBM that costs less than F-35, flies higher, farther and faster than that jet-which is helpless to stop it…so why are we wasting money on the logistical nightmare that is our Cold War/WWII force projection posture? SLS can place rods from God and other assets that can attack America’s enemies faster than conventional carrier groupies-and can strike DOWN at ICBMs on their way up before they can MIRV their warheads. SLS could thus SAVE taxpayers money in eliminating the need for bases, bunks, beans, bullets-and bodies-now scattered across the world…in harms way. Put our troops on the border, and and use joysticks in Cheyenne Mountain to fight overseas. I don’t think Starship is up to the task.

  • Jeff Wright

    This just in:–the-f35-debacle-n2590965

    The fact that the Pentagon will invest some $1.7 trillion in the program is beside the point.
    “Last September, the U.S. Air Force shocked the aviation world when they announced that they not only had a design in mind for their Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter, they’d already built a prototype and flown it,” analyst Alex Hollings reports. Perhaps this is the potential weapon the Air Force relies on in its war games so it can defeat the Chinese.

    SLS at least gets you LH2 and NTRs

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