Monday, January 29, 2018

F-35 Concurrency Orphans

We’ve repeatedly noted the lunacy of concurrent development and production.  The Navy tried it with the LCS and failed badly.  They tried it with the Ford and failed badly.  However, the F-35 is the poster child for the idiocy of concurrency.  Now the consequences are starting to come out.  We’re faced with a no-win choice:  either rebuild these non-standard aircraft for exorbitant amounts of money on top of the already exorbitant amounts we paid to build them the first time around or leave them as non-standard, non-combat capable aircraft – essentially throw them away.  Sure, we’ll use a few as maintenance trainers but most will have no purpose.

The National Interest website (1) reports,

“The new F-35 program executive officer, U.S. Navy vice admiral Mat Winter, said his office is exploring the option of leaving 108 aircraft in their current state because the funds to upgrade them to the fully combat-capable configuration would threaten the Air Force’s plans to ramp up production in the coming years.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

“Left unsaid so far is what will become of the 81 F-35s purchased by the Marine Corps and Navy during that same period. If they are left in their current state, nearly 200 F-35s might permanently remain unready for combat because the Pentagon would rather buy new aircraft than upgrade the ones the American people have already paid for.”

National Interest astutely notes that these “concurrency orphans” are the ones that cost the most money because they were purchased earliest in the program.  These are the aircraft that cost $150M-$200M each.

Let’s look at that cost a bit closer.

For nice round numbers, let’s call it 200 concurrency orphans at $150M each.  That’s a total of  $30 billion !!!!!!!

$30B lost to concurrency.

That’s $30B worth of aircraft that will never be operational, never see combat, and will wind up sitting in storage somewhere while they are slowly scavenged for parts.

What could we have done with $30B? 

-          We could have bought 2 Ford class carriers
-          We could have bought 16 Burkes class destroyers
-          We could have bought 7 big deck amphibious ships
-          We could have bought 337 advanced Super Hornets (2)
-          We could have bought untold quantities of logistics support ships, minesweepers, ASW corvettes, and maybe, just maybe, a shell for the Zumwalt’s gun!

Worse, we are still producing non-combat capable aircraft and testing is still on-going so the final concurrency orphan tally will be markedly higher – perhaps 300 or so aircraft.

Come on, seriously, someone has to go to jail for this.


(1)The National Interest website, “108 U.S. F-35s Won't Be Combat-Capable”, Dan Grazier, 16-Oct-2017,

(2)USNI News website, “Navy Wants to Buy 80 More Super Hornets for $7.1B Over the Next Five Years”, Megan Eckstein, 13-Jun-2017,


  1. What, no combat ready jets that can only be used for training... Wait where did I heard this before ??

    The Air Force estimates it would cost $1.7 billion to convert 34 older-model F-22 training jets to an operational configuration that is homogenous with today's Block 30 Raptor fleet. Former Air Combat Command Chief Gen. Herbert Carlisle told lawmakers last summer the service was "looking very hard"at what it would take to convert the training jets to operational assets. In an August report to Congress, the service says that upgrading the Block 20 trainers to a Block 30 .

    Oh yeah they did a similar thing Before :D


  2. So

    " 34 older-model F-22 training jets "

    " non-combat capable aircraft and testing is still on-going so the final concurrency orphan tally will be markedly higher – perhaps 300 or so aircraft "

    notice a pattern here, what was that definition again of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    1. 34 non-combat capable is bad but 34 versus around 300 is quite a difference!

  3. Historical perspective.
    The F100A was a evil handling plane, unloved, 203 built. Quickly taken out of service.
    F100D, larger wing and tail plane, to fix above.
    1200+ built.

    F-22, give them to the Thunderbird's, F-35 Blue Angels. The Blue Angel's F18s are imitating Cessnas these days, useful load increases as parts fall off during take off. Sort of like Navy ships.

    Bobs Baradur

    1. I'm missing it. What point were you illustrating with your historical perspective example?

      Similarly, what was the point about the F-22?

  4. Point was the AF at least built 203 F100A, knowing that they were marginally useful/dangerous, then parked them after little use.
    With that experience of the A models, built a lot D models, that did work ok.

    The F-22, the concurrency orphan trainers would make
    flashy mounts for the Thunderbirds.

    Bobs Baradur

    1. Okay, I see. However, there's a potential (likely?) difference here. I don't know the F100 story so correct me if I'm wrong. If the F100 was initially built as well as they could design an aircraft at that time and then, with use, it was found to have problems, that's understandable. In contrast, the initial few hundred F-35s were built while developmental testing was just being started. That's irresponsible, at best, because every aircraft has developmental problems so to build hundreds of aircraft with the absolutely certain knowledge that they would have to rebuilt, if they even could, is sheer lunacy.

      What was the case for the F100?

      The F-22 is a typical AF case. Everyone acknowledges that we didn't build enough F-22s. Therefore, the AF should be jumping at the chance to bring the 34 non-standard F-22s up to current standards. When we go to war with China, we'll need every F-22 we can get.

  5. I've been playing around with this theme for awhile and decided to start digging into it more seriously. It's a lot harder than I thought and I knew it wsn't going to be easy finding all the data and trying to keep it fair. I'm trying to compare apples to apples and have broken it down to X or Y models, FSD run, one-offs like F16XL, early LRIPS that really just warm up the production line and trainers.

    I feel trainers should be included since some of these F35s that are "useless" do have a role as trainers and since F35 doesn't have a dedicated variant for that, it's a little bit of a guessing game BUT I feel they should be included as I'm also including (to be fair) trainer versions of the "teens" series since many of them weren't that combat capable either, to completely exclude them isn't a fair comparison.

  6. As of right now, I'm working on F4 Phantom, the F14,15,16,18, F22 and F35. Haven't started the Super Hornet. The problems so far are really getting more data on the Phantom and Tomcat as they were Twin seaters and haven't gotten yet a good break down as how many were used as trainers....early search into FY tail numbers appears that many (F14s) seem to have deployed so I really need to figure out a different way to figure out a good number for trainers.

    F22 is going to be horrible, no way to make the numbers look good. We basically killed the program BEFORE the production run started so we are stuck with a bunch of early LRIPS/trainers to compare to a SMALL total production run, that percentage of useless/combat capable is really BAD!

    F35 could go either way, we don't know yet the total run so it's how much you hate or love the program were the percentage can be....

    Eventually, I will like to look into the F104 and F105 runs and the French Mirages, that could be interesting...

    I have a ton of aviation books and internet to find the numbers, they are out there, just need to keep digging....

  7. Just did some research on the F100 and it raises an valid point: Where do you put the F100A? They built 200 of them, got rid of them really fast, so how should one consider it in the big scheme of things? Would we consider it like an early LRIP today? F100C and D had big production runs and saw combat, how combat capable was a F100A? Probably not that much so I think I'm putting it in the "useless" category....but it makes a big difference, that's 200 fighters that go on one side of the scale, it's not negligible on a total run of 1750 F100s.

    1. Interesting investigation. I look forward to seeing what you find.

      Note, though, there is a difference between aircraft that were never combat capable (the F-35s that we're talking about) and aircraft that were fully combat capable, as intended, but just not good enough to warrant a long service life (the F-100, perhaps).

      Also, the premise of the post is the effect of concurrency. Again, it's one thing to build a production aircraft that just wasn't very good and quite another to build an aircraft from a design that wasn't fully developed or tested prior to building.

      So, give some serious thought to how you categorize aircraft as you look into this.

  8. I would like to send you the spreadsheet first and run it by you so I can hear what u have to say and trouble shoot it. Any way I can send a private email to you?

    1. Post your email in written form in a comment and I'll send you an email that you can reply to. For example, yourname at gmail dot com. That will avoid spambots. I'll delete the comment as soon as I see it to minimize exposure of your address.

  9. Wonder what congressional members will say, if the DOD audit captures the high cost of all these concurrency orphans,with more being produced ! Some folks should be fired over this travesty.

    1. BTW- This Paul is not me, as this is the first time I've come here. Plus, you will know it's not me because I would have written that some folks should be shot.

      I came here because this site was referred to at ' Chant du Depart '. I'm bookmarking it because what I have read so far is good.

      Thanks for the post.
      Paul L. Quandt

  10. Hmm, I though of another scheme they can justify all those not to much combat capable F-35's at least the A model.
    They could be used for the air defense mission over the continental US, at least if I was a Air force general that's how i could sell it to Congress.
    See they can't be used for high end combat but they're perfectly good for air policing.

    1. Most of them will be given to ANG eventually, it will be costly but Congress and Senate will love it since it will help them promote their airbases and keep ANG in their states.

  11. Thanks for clearing things up, I deleted my comment to protect the one I quoted.

    1. That's fine. More importantly, what are your thoughts on any aspect of the post?

      Here's an historical example for you to ponder. The F-14 Tomcat had around 8 (I forget the exact number of the top of my head but that's very close) non-standard (meaning non-production), non-combat capable aircraft built that were used for the development and testing portion of the program. As far as I know, all other aircraft were fully combat capable. Some were assigned to the east and west coast replacement squadrons (pilot training) and, from time to time, various other training commands such as Top Gun but all were fully combat capable. Contrast this to the 200 (likely 300+ eventually) non-standard, non-combat capable F-35s. What lessons do you draw from this?


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