Thursday, April 21, 2016

I Actually Hate The F-35

I was reading a comment by an F-35 supporter on another blog – yes, there’s still a few F-35 supporters left despite all the evidence – and my reaction was pure visceral hatred of the F-35 program and, later, I wondered why I had that reaction.  I’ve seen other weapon systems that had major problems and they didn’t elicit that kind of emotional response.  The F-14, for example, started life with woefully underpowered engines that plagued it for much of its life and yet I fully supported the program while being disappointed in the engine development.  I was never a fan of the F-18 Hornet and yet it never produced a gut reaction like the F-35.  I think the Ford class is a colossal waste of money and effort but I have no particular emotional reaction.  What’s different about the F-35?

After much thought, I believe I have an answer.  I viewed other programs as inanimate, mechanical entities as, indeed, they are.  By that, I mean that they were simply machines and, like all cutting edge machines, they had teething problems to overcome.  I could live with that.  Problems eventually get solved.  No big deal.  Even the F-18 Hornet, which I believed to have been a bad design that failed to acknowledge the realities of the strategic and tactical setting it was intended for was still just a machine that, over time, came to fit as well as it was able to into the role it was given.

The F-35, on the other hand, has become a living entity to me.  It has lied to me, deceived me, and manipulated me – hence, my visceral hatred of the program just as I would hate any person who treated me that way.

I’m not going to go through the litany of technical issues.  Those are well known and are just mechanical issues.  I’m not going to go through the litany of strategic and tactical design failures.  Those, like the F-18, are simply shortcomings that we will have to make the best of.

What I want to list is the personal animosity the program has towards me (and you!).  For starters, the program was presented to me as if I was the dumbest person in the world and would blindly accept the host of magical level, fantasy capability promises that made up the F-35 concept.  This is insulting beyond belief.  It’s as if I walked into a car dealer and the salesman tried to tell me that the car would only need one tank of gas during its entire lifetime and might even produce extra fuel that I could siphon off and sell back to the oil companies.  That’s utterly absurd and yet that’s almost the level of lies that the F-35 was based on.

Next, the accounting costs have been nothing but lies from day one and continue to the present day.  General Bogdan claims the F-35 will cost under $80M in the very near future despite the actual budget numbers that show around $150M-$250M per aircraft.  Again, that’s just a slap in the face to my intelligence.  Browse the Internet and you’ll find constant stories about potential cuts in production numbers that program officials claim will only cause a 1% increase in price, if even that, and yet stories about some country potentially ordering five extra aircraft (out of a total planned production run of 2500 or so) contain claims of 10%-20% drops due to economies of scale.

The Marines declaring IOC when their own staged and manipulated test demonstrated less than 50% aircraft availability was just the program thumbing their nose at me and saying they flat out didn’t care what I thought or what the data showed.

The clearly manipulative ploy of the manufacturer setting up facilities in every state and most countries so as to make cancellation of the program politically impossible is abhorrent and, again, personally insulting.

I could go on but you get the idea.  This program has lied to me, deceived me, manipulated me, and insulted me.  This is why I hate the F-35.

How about you?  Is the F-35 just another piece of equipment to you or do you have an emotional connection, good or bad, towards it?


  1. I dont hate it, there are certainly some pretty egregious issues that you have touched on, but a lot of them are wider problems.

    The pork barrel nature of the production is a disgrace, but, its occurred that way because the pork barrel nature of the various participants, yes, they effectively bribed a large block of congressmen, senators and overseas politicians, but that hatred should really be reserved for the people who took the bribe.

    The technological mastery side of things will come down to a couple of points.
    The first is a lot of it will make a huge difference, whilst being pretty hard to explain. I've driven a car without a rev counter, its REALLY hard. A rev counter does not sound like a but deal, until you dont have one.
    And its sort of like that.

    Having a radar, a radar warning receiver, and an IRST is great.
    But having a radar warning receiver that warns the pilot hes being looked at, and also warns the radar and IRST to look back without the pilot having to manually tell both systems to do so.
    It sounds simple, but that's effectively the job of the second crew man.

    Personally, I think it was a mistake to lose the second crewman, because there is always more stuff to do, I believe France increased its proportion of two seat Rafales after Libya.

    The second techexcuse is on of time.
    The F35 was deliberately delayed for political reasons. Had the Soviet Union not collapsed, it would have been pushed through in 5 years and been flying in 2000, but no one wanted to order 3,000 Jets then, so it went through the extend and pretend process, much like every other program.

    The UK is a fantastic example of this, based on the 1997 SDR its pretty clear that our last F35s were expected in 2012, and we were originally ordering 150 of them....
    But the carriers were delayed for financial reasons, politically explained as being reviewed, to make sure they were right, the harriers were retired early, because there no carriers, and so on.

    Its very bad, but its not really the fault of the F35 program office.

    Its a classic example of how not to run a procurement, but the lessons are many, and include a lot more than "Lockmart bad", and they are in many cases well above the heads of the Air Force.

  2. Well you are gonna love the pogo page this morning.
    The PMO is now saying that the ALIS system is NOT critical, after just saying last year it was.

    Anyway WE ALL should HATE any thing, system, organization, or group of people that lie, cheat, and steal from us.

    Maybe hope for change is coming, people seem to be realizing this. Which is why 80% of the electorate(40 for Bernie and 40 for Trump) is not voting for an establishment candidate, no matter how ugly the alternative.

    So hope for change because this is not just an F-35 issue, it is a systemic issue where the people in power (in DoD, Congress, and Industry) do whatever gets them money or power and they are not concerned with effectiveness.

    1. Agree, so Alice in Wonderland was a big deal and super important until it wasn't!

      Wow,wow,wow, anyone else see a BIG PROBLEM HERE:

      "....In one instance, maintainers even had to manually burn data onto CDs and drive off base to send the massive files across a civilian WiFi network."

      So, someone can open the program, copy it on a another format, take it off base and transfer it on a civilian network? Really?

      This isn't safety/potential hacker problem?!?!

    2. NICO, excellent point and one I hadn't picked up on.

  3. I've yo yo'd on the F-35. But now, yes, its become like some malevolent budget eating entity.

    All the points you touched on, and the pork that TrT touched on, make me in my darker moments think that the F-35 wasn't an actual fighter but an exercise between B-school grads of the 'make as much money in the short term' school and generals and admirals who wanted something fantastic in the pipeline to give them a job and to keep money coming to the military. And that the goal of making an excellent aircraft came in like 5th on the goals sheet of the program.

    I know that's not (entirely) the case. I know just flat out acquisition incompetence on both Lockheeds and the governments part play a role: "Can it do this too?" "Sure!!! Change Order time! Call my wife and tell her we can afford the new Chris Craft after all!"

    But the end result is that we will end up with an aircraft which has technology that is old when it finally gets fielded. And that has such a level of complexity that I don't know if they'll ever get it right with all the upgrades and changes coming. 8 million lines of code? The #$*@!& Zumwalt has 4!

    I'm a car guy. I don't like the complexity baked into new cars because it creates multiple points of failure. (Your speed sensor went out. It took out ABS, AWD, and the speedo with it. Have fun!). The F-35 is a flying example of multiple points of failure.

    All fighter jets have issues. They are often on the edge of engineering. The SU-27 and its follow ons have theirs, the F-15 has its, and the Tomcat and Hornet had theirs.

    But at the basic level, they worked. The Tomcat had bad engines, but it could still perform the outer air battle mission. The Hornet had bad range, but could still do light attack with some tanking/drop tanks. The SuperHornet had its wing drop (not all that uncommon I'm finding) and its weapons separation, but its turned into a viable aircraft that most of its crews like. They all flew, had success, and were able to perform missions. There is some ROI with these craft.

    I don't know if we'll ever get there with the F-35, and the solution is always another code upgrade and 10's of millions of more dollars.

    And that doesn't even touch the planes kinematics and its huge, hot engine (how are you stealth when your engine is so hot?)

    I'd rather see them make a new aircraft that is significantly simpler. Some things maybe can get carried over; the skin seems okay, and stealth shaping seems to work. But give it two, more simple, reliable engines, and try for some IR suppression. Give it good range and speed. Give it decent avionics and make it simple enough that we can maintain them have good reliability. But don't break the bank on any one thing; We need to be able to buy them in large numbers.

    1. 1) the F-35 actually have alot of suppression feature , and it's engine is not as hot as you think , and far cooler than the one on Rafale or Eurofighter
      you can read abot the detail here :

      2) about the plane Kinematics , most people complaint about F-35 kinematics doesnt really understand alot about aerodynamic and make very general assumption or repeat what they heard from Carlo kopp or Sprey
      here is a detail analysis of F-35 kinematics made by actual aerodynamic engineers :

    2. Thanks for providing 2 very generic links that provide virtually nothing to your assertions!

      You pretty much proved what ComNavOps was saying!

    3. Let's keep the discussions impersonal and respectful!

    4. How exactly are they generic NICO ?
      one of them talk about IR suppression on fighter , the other one is an engineers analysis of F-35 kinematics compare to others fighters ( F-18 , F-14,AV-B , F-16 , F-15 , F-22 )

  4. The reason I hate it as you do is it really bothers me when EVEN CHALLENGING TO ASK a question is now UNAMERICAN!!! I have been accused and called all kinds of crazy names because I DARE ASK ACCOUNTABILITY! I use some judgement and experience and that makes me a TRAITOR to my country?!? Really?

  5. I'm with you on this too. From day 1 it seem that Joseph Goebbels was selling us this program. I think that you should also point out that the JPO has NEVER presented any negative data on the program. That always came from IOT&E or other outside sources. Even on the Eglin fire, you could never find a published photo. I think the final sleaze factor is the way that the contractor seemed to hire anonymous and named bloggers to try to write positive articles and sell the lie further. Oh and the Air Force Public Affairs outfit that threatened AF folks if they said anything negative about the F-35. There is a huge pattern of lying and deceit that has always been part and parcel of this program.

    If the airplane hade been cheap, as promised, it would be ok but we are killing the rest of DoD procurement and readiness at the alter of the F-35.

    To me it is still the wrong airplane lacking range and payload needed for the adversaries we are now concerned with and now with technology that already needs replacement due to the protracted development. Lastly, technology is catching up with it and I don't think it will be as effective as stated.

  6. I really wanted this aircraft to work, and I believed that it could be done. But, the aircraft that we have will be at least 50% more expensive than planned at program start, and currently cannot match the performance of a F-16D carrying 2 bags (a requirement.) Is it any wonder that the Navy wants more Super Hornets, and the USAF wants more F-22s? Note that the USAF mysteriously backpedalled on their F-X requirement, while the Congress inserted a provision in the NDAA to study re-openning the F-22 line. Coincidence? I think not.

  7. Good Piece. Nice Angle on a subject that has saturated defence pages for years now.

    F35 has become an AMAZINGLY emotional subject for many of us interested parties, and for the layman.

    Being a self-confessed F35 fan boi, I would like to mirror your feeling really. The endless promises, disinformation and optimistic time scales is what winds you up isn’t it.

    For me I see the totally unreasonable nay-sayers, proposing all kinds of craziness. And I’m taking THIS so personally. Why do I care ? I don’t care when there are massively uninformed comments about EVERYTHING over at defence tech. Or endless discussion of moronic ideas like a European army. I just huff, tut, and turn the page.

    The plane is just the plane.
    It will BE, or it won’t BE.

    It’s the peripheral issues, the politics, the incompetence and the endless streams of puerile PR.

    And here for me I’m not just talking about the PRO camp, I’m talking about the CON as well.

    I think “lies” beget “lies” and all sense seems to be lost.

    I’m beginning to hope the dam plane goes live soon, good or bad, just to get off this broken record.

  8. The reason I hate the program is that we're so leveraged on it that the precautionary principle applies.

    The F-35 has monopoly in its sphere and we are led to believe that there is at least a reasonable chance that it will be outclassed by competitors. If air superiority turns out to be a decisive factor in the next war, I would argue that diversification is a sound choice.

    Interestingly enough, enacting the precautionary principle usually comes at a cost of "higher returns," but the case here is that we are paying more for accepting this risk because of the nature of massive acquisition programs.

    I would favor redundancy and opportunism in acquisitions over supposed efficiency and directed outcomes, especially since the latter are so dependent upon uncertain forecasts which we continually prove so poor at.

    1. We made this bloody thing so damned complex, and managed it sooooo poorly. And the optics of that bad management are horrible.

      This was going to be the budget stealth high volume low answer to the F-22. But lies, blown schedules, and congressional games by the contractor make this look horrible.

      70% commonality turned into something like 30% commonality.

      We know some of its sensors are aging as we speak. Maybe sensor fusion works as advertised, maybe not. But when it finally reaches a real IOC the sensors in some of the newer pods may well be better quality.

      8 Million (!!) lines of code are proving exceedingly difficult to debug.

      Even Bogden has said now that the multiple service approach was 'hard' and we'd have to think about doing it again.

      Maybe it works out, but there is very little faith. The vendor needs to IOC a jet that can actually do stuff, and that has a high mean time between failures.

      Where would we be if we just created 3 different planes for each service? 1 for the Navy, 1 for the AF, and 1 for the Corps?

      Would it really be more expensive than this? Would it have taken this long?

      Would we be a situation where we have 1 vendor doing fighter aircraft for the next few DECADES?

      It looks bad, in retrospect, that we opted to deal with tighter budgets by ratcheting up complexity instead of going for simpler, cheaper jets.

    2. I cant help but feel that this is at least in part what the piece is about.

      You have been , well we all are being sold "the big lie".

      Now this is NATO. We don't do simple cheap jets, we do 10 to 1 kill ratio with cutting edge technology.

      ( We couldn't do a good "MIG" if we tried. Its a whole different skill set and very advanced and difficult field in its own right )

      To some extent our advantage is always the cutting edge, technological superiority. From the M4 to the F35.

      And ALWAYS to some extent it take a while to make the never before seen a reality.

      The big lie is that the F35 was ever going to be GOOD \ CHEAP and ON TIME. As any engineer knows, in this eternal triangle, you lucky to ever get 2 of these. All 3 is impossible.

      Take it from me this was bollox from the start.

      Benjamin W. Oliver B.Eng (Hons)

    3. Eric, well reasoned comment.

    4. "Now this is NATO. We don't do simple cheap jets, we do 10 to 1 kill ratio with cutting edge technology."

      With jets like the new Chinese jets, and the Super Flanker out there, I don't know if that's feasible anymore.

    5. "Now this is NATO. We don't do simple cheap jets, we do 10 to 1 kill ratio with cutting edge technology."

      That approach is valid only if we actually have and maintain a technology advantage. If enemies match our technology, as China and Russia are in the process of doing, then our [unwise] philosophy of conceding numbers to emphasize technology results in aircraft that are on par and outnumbered. That 10:1 advantage becomes a 1:2+ disadvantage.

      We bet on technology and our bet is being called. I think we're going to be in trouble when both sides show their hands and the other side has more cards.

  9. The single most important question now facing the US Navy's and the USMC's senior leadership is whether or not: (a) to spend TACAIR money in buying more Super Hornets and in laying a foundation for extending the service lives of the legacy Hornets, Harriers, and Super Hornets; or (b) to spend that TACAIR money instead on procuring new F-35B's and C's.

    Let's assume for the sake of argument that the F-35 is everything its advocates say that it is; i.e., that it is the most powerful multi-role fighter airplane in the history of military aviation, and that it will be dominating all forms of aerial combat for two or more decades into the future.

    Let's also assume -- again for the sake of argument -- that the many criticisms of the F-35 we've been hearing in the military blogosphere and in the press are unsupportable assertions being spouted by people with a contrary agenda of some kind to push.

    Those contrary agendas might include pushing the sale of competing aircraft or else might be founded in a politically-biased belief that American airpower represents a danger to world peace and should be throttled back along with all other tools of American military power.

    As once said by former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, "He who controls the assumptions controls the world."

    If we assume the F-35 is indeed what its most ardent advocates say that it is, the logical approach to managing USN/USMC TACAIR is to devote every possible budget resource to greatly accelerating F-35B and F-35C production. This means retiring the USMC's legacy Harrier and Hornet aircraft fleets as soon as practically possible. And it means progressively retiring the US Navy's F-18 E/F series when those airframes reach 6,000 hours or are trapped out, using those retired E's and F's as spare parts bins for the Super Hornets which still remain in service.

    The Navy's and the USMC's senior leadership has said repeatedly that the F-35C and the F-35B are greatly superior to the F-18 E/F and to the legacy Harriers and Hornets for handling all of the Navy's and the USMC's future TACAIR requirements. If those claims are in indeed factual, then there is no justification at this point for keeping the F-18 E/F production line open and for extending the service lives of the legacy Hornet, Super Hornet, and Harrier fleets.

    The validity of the DOD senior leadership's claims about the F-35 will not be clearly evident for at least another decade.

    If by the year 2025, it turns out that the F-35 is not the most powerful multi-role fighter airplane in the history of military aviation, and that it will not be dominating all forms of aerial combat well into the 2040's, then something else will have to be figured out.

    That 'something else' is likely to include placing much greater reliance on the USAF's bomber fleet combined with placing much more budget emphasis on developing a variety of air-launched, sea-launched, and ground-launched standoff weaponry types.

    1. "The single most important question now facing the US Navy's and the USMC's senior leadership is whether or not: (a) to spend TACAIR money in buying more Super Hornets ... or (b) to spend that TACAIR money instead on procuring new F-35B's and C's."

      No. Well, kind of no. The most important question is not which aircraft to buy but what strategy(s) we want to use to conduct future warfare with China. China is the threat that drives all military actions, policies, acquisitions, strategies, tactics, etc. Russia, NKorea, Iran, etc. are subsets of that capability. The strategy we will use to combat China will determine what type of aircraft we need. It may be (I think it is) the case that neither the F-35 nor the Hornet family is the correct choice because I don't see either being useful in the kind of strategies that I see as desirable.

    2. "Let's assume for the sake of argument that the F-35 is everything its advocates say that it is"

      Setting aside my previous objection to the question, your assumption is fair enough for the purpose of discussion. It's just an assumption and you acknowledge it as such. You then address the logical result. Again, fair enough.

      Now, what about the opposite assumption? What if we assume the F-35 continues to be the failure it so far is? What is the logical result of that? What should we do? What will happen?

      In other words, what is the companion, flip side of the case you presented?

    3. Now, assumptions aside, Navy leadership is faced with a monumental decision and no clear body of facts to base that decision on. Like a jury in a trial, they must choose between two opposing sets of "facts". Having sat on several juries, the judge always instructs the jury to choose the set of "facts" that seem most reasonable. Neither set will be 100% right or 100% wrong. The jury must decide which set of "facts" seem more likely to be right than wrong. So, too, Navy leadership must look at the F-35 "facts", pro and con, and decide which set is more likely to be right than wrong.

      Given the history of repeated failures (I'm injecting a bit of bias, now), is it more likely that the F-35 will turn around and become the amazing warfighting machine the supporters claim or is more likely that the F-35 will continue to fail as the critics claim?

      To me, it seems more likely that the program will continue its two decade run of failure.

      Regardless, what we can't do is wait to see what happens before making a decision because then it's too late. Like seeing a tiny fire in a house, we can't wait to see if it will become a large fire because by then our chance to put the fire out and save the house will have gone. We must act early with only a partial set of data. That's the essence of leadership, according to Jack Welch. Right now is the time to kill the F-35 if that's the right decision. If we wait until we know it's a failure, it's too late and the aviation house will have burned down. On the other hand, if the F-35 is the right decision, then your scenario applies.

      Shit or get off the pot time. Navy leadership is trying to straddle the pot and avoid making a decision. Of course, as we know, no decision is a decision.

  10. "That 'something else' is likely to include placing much greater reliance on the USAF's bomber fleet combined with placing much more budget emphasis on developing a variety of air-launched, sea-launched, and ground-launched standoff weaponry types."

    The opportunity cost here is huge. If we devote everything towards the F-35, and it doesn't work out, NAVAIR and the AF are going to be left in the lurch. We'll realistically only have one vendor for future fighters, and the cost of acquisition may well suck the life out of any future development program to replace the F-35.

    Even if we do pull out all the stops for the F-35 and it works, we are going to face a time period where we don't have enough F-35's at full capability, and don't have enough SuperHornets.

    1. Yes Jim. that's the long and the short of it.

      If the F-35 doesn't turn out to be the airplane its most ardent advocates say that it is, the potential opportunity cost of going with the Lightning II as the mainstay of our future TACAIR fleet is huge.

      My personal opinion is that the F-35 will be the last manned fighter airplane America produces.

      The development costs, manufacturing costs, operational costs, and maintenance costs of fielding 2400 F-35's will consume most of TACAIR's human and budgetary resources, making it next to impossible to develop and field a true 6th Generation manned fighter.

      As it concerns the future of American airpower, we must ask the obvious question, what future aerial combat platform will be handling the role of a 6th Gen manned fighter if the F-35 ends up eating most of the TACAIR budget?

      It will be the USAF's B-21, otherwise known as the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), carrying a variety of intelligence-enabled standoff weaponry types.

    2. "... what future aerial combat platform will be handling the role of a 6th Gen manned fighter if the F-35 ends up eating most of the TACAIR budget?

      It will be the USAF's B-21, otherwise known as the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), carrying a variety of intelligence-enabled standoff weaponry types."

      I have so many problems with that statement. However, it is fascinating and highly relevant. Care to do a guest post on the subject?

    3. CNO, John Stillion of the Center For Budgetary Assessments (CBSA) has authored a study which justifies using the LRS-B as a substitute for 6th Generation fighters.

      There was an article concerning this topic on Breaking Defense a year ago which covers the topic in much better detail than I could possibly do it:

      Should Future Fighter Be Like A Bomber? Groundbreaking CSBA Study

      What these kinds of studies suggest might be possible is that the artificial intelligence and the secure data communications needed to remove the pilot from the cockpit might be distributed throughout the battleforce network in the form of redundant networked communication pathways working with other manned platforms in the air and on the sea, combined with a variety of AI-enabled stand-off weaponry types.

      Will these concepts actually work in the real world? There isn't a clear answer to that question by any means, but there is every justification for looking more deeply into the possibilities.

    4. I assume you're referring to the "Trends in Air to Air Combat" report? I've read it and it is a fascinating concept and report, worthy of consideration but also a badly flawed report. I'll give you a couple of examples.

      He assesses 30 some combats in the '91 Desert Storm conflict without factoring in that they were not air to air combat - they were live fire drone exercises against aircraft that were either not fighting back or were so badly outclassed (in training, tactics, weapons, sensors, AWACS support, etc.) that they were reduced to drones. To draw air to air combat lessons from those that can be applied to future peer level combat is fundamentally flawed.

      Similarly, he "proves" that engagement ranges have increased over time by showing the use of guns and various missiles have changed. What he fails to factor in is that while a Sidewinder (short range IR missile) has a longer range than a gun, its use does not mean that it was actually used at longer range. Many Sidewinders have been fired at gun ranges as a matter of convenience, performance, or preference. His conclusion is probably valid but his methodology is not.

      I could go on but this is just a comment. It's a shame that the report is so badly flawed because the subject is well worthy of consideration.

      Honestly, it read like a person who had a pre-conceived conclusion and was searching for data to support it (nothing wrong with that) and manipulated the data to force the desired conclusion (lots wrong with that).

      Given the flaws in methodology, the conclusion is suspect.

      If you haven't yet, I urge you to read the report and really analyze the data and methodology with an objective and critical (in the scientific sense) eye.

  11. Hi,

    In my case it is more worriness and the word is mild. The F35 is suposed to be an important part of western defenses and its multiple weaknesses are a problem for all of us. If US Air Force is weak, that may tempt bad guys to go at us all (I a french)


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