The Curious Case of the F-35

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

“Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more” — Snoopy vs. The Red Baron

The priapic reaction to Trump’s firing off a few JASSM and Tomahawk missiles — followed, naturally, by the inevitable tristesse — gives me the opportunity to focus on another technological wonder: The most expensive weapon ever built, if built is the word I want: the F-35. It seems that the Pentagon has refused to accept delivery of the latest batch of Lockheed product. Reuters:

[D]eliveries were paused again over a dispute as to who will pay for what will likely be a complex logistical fix that could require technicians to travel widely to mend aircraft based around the world, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

When the Pentagon stops taking delivery of F-35s, foreign customers can also be affected. So far at least two foreign governments have stopped accepting F-35s as a result of this issue, two of the sources said.

During routine maintenance at Hill Air Force Base in Utah last year, the Air Force detected “corrosion exceeding technical limits,” where the carbon fiber exterior panel is fastened to the aluminum airframe.

At the heart of the dispute is the government’s inspection of the planes during Lockheed’s production, which failed to discover problems with the fastenings, the sources said. Because neither party caught the issue at the time each is pointing the finger at the other to pay for the fix.

Evidently, there are quality control problems on Lockheed’s production line:

A joint government and industry investigation found that Lockheed had failed to apply a primer to prevent corrosion in the fastener holes for an aluminium cover plate.

This isn’t the same corrosion[1] that was found back in 2016.

[ Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force’s military deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition at the Pentagon] said the corrosion issue is not the same as the corrosion found in the lines back in Sept. 2016. The Air Force grounded 13 out of 104 F-35s in the fleet then, “due to the discovery of peeling and crumbling insulation in avionics cooling lines inside the fuel tanks,” the service said at the time.

Although that corrosion, too, was a quality control problem on Lockheed’s production line:

[I]nsulation wrapped around coolant lines had disintegrated because a subcontractor failed to use the proper sealant.

The fix for the current corrosion problem sounds like it’s pretty simple:

The JPO, international partners and Lockheed are developing a plan to inspect about 250 F-35 already delivered and fix any panels with corroded fasteners, the JPO adds.

“In the interim, primer will be applied to fastener holes of fielded aircraft as panels are removed during routine F-35 maintenance operations,” the JPO states. “Lockheed Martin has taken action to correct the production line work order error to ensure primer is applied to all fastener holes on future aircraft.”

The fix for 2016’s corrosion problem wasn’t quite so simple:

[Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, program executive officer with the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) said that] the JPO, Lockheed Martin, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and the Naval Air Systems Command “have come up with an engineering solution in which we will go in by cutting holes in the wings—and there are access panels we can go through also—and remove that insulation and FOD [foreign object damage)] and close the airplane up and allow it to get back into flight.”

Cutting holes in the wings. All this matters, because if the F-35 is to be stealthy — assuming it can be stealthy, and that the whole stealth technology is not an enormous scam — you really want to be touching its surfaces as little as you possibly can. Defense News:

In order to reduce the F-35’s [radar] signature, the panels making up its airframe must be precisely aligned. As each panel goes through the production process — build, then installation, then joining to other panels — small deviations can make it very difficult to meet standards, even for an experienced mechanic.

“It’s not a human problem; that’s just the result of our ability. We’re approaching the limits of our ability to build some of these things from precise-enough technology,” Babione said.

Still, he allowed that some human error remains.

“On the other hand, we inadvertently scratch the coating system, and we have to repaint it. Or when the mechanics spray the airplane [with LO coating], not all of it is robotically sprayed. There’s some overspray, and they have to go clean that,” he said.

Summarizing, it’s not like, whoops, accidentally dropping a hammer on a wing is bad; it’s like scratching the wing is bad. So you can see why “cutting holes in the wings” would be a concern. Or going near the thing with tools made out of metal, or that have edges.

Anyhow, I did get a bit sidetracked by the hilarity of the F-35’s hardware problems — Who’s doing quality assurance on the F-35 line? Elon Musk? — because what I really wanted to do was look at the F-35’s even more hilarious software problems. Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, director of the Air Force F-35 Integration Office, doing public relations clean-up back during the 2016 corrosion leak story, provides a convenient segue:

Seated behind an F-35 helmet-mounted display system, he predicted the Lightning II will exceed all other fighters in performance once it receives its Block 3F full mission systems software release.

“Once we get to 3F software and full warfighting capability on this airplane, I’m confident it’s going to deliver an awesome combat capability,” Pleus said. “In terms of lethality and survivability, the aircraft is absolutely head and shoulders above our legacy fleet of fighters currently fielded.”

(It’s not clear that the F-35 has been deployed in the Middle East, though Israel has eight. The aircraft seems not to have played a role in the most recent episode.) So, two things to look at: (1) the helmet and (2) the mission systems software, because the F-35 is, after all, “software intensive.”

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) released a new report — “F-35: Still No Finish Line in Sight” — on the F-35 on March 19 (reprinted in full at War is Boring); it summarizes the critiques the latest annual report from the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) on the F-35 program. Make a pot of coffee if you want to make it your Sunday afternoon reading (and read all the way to the end for a mordant comment on “Block 3F” (“litotes“)). About the famous helmet:

One of the many deficiencies reported is the F-35’s inability to reliably hit targets with its cannon. The problem is most pronounced with the Air Force’s F-35A, the version of the aircraft that would replace the A-10. This variant has an internally mounted cannon. The F-35B (Marine Corps) and F-35C (Navy) both use an externally mounted cannon pod. A footnote in the report states

“Flight testing of the different gun systems on the F-35 (internal gun for F-35A and external gun pods for the F-35B and F-35C) revealed problems with effectiveness, accuracy, pilot controls, and gunsights displayed in the Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS). The synopsis and assessment of specific HMDS problems are classified [I’ll bet they are!].”

For example, the testing teams at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California began conducting air-to-ground tests of the cannon in February 2017, but had to take an extended break when they noticed the sights in the pilot’s Helmet Mounted Display System—the infamous $600,000 helmet—did not line up properly with the cannon. The paused tests were completed more than six months later in September 2017 after a tentative fix had been installed. But the F-35’s cannon still had an “uncharacterized bias toward long and right of the target,” resulting in pilots “consistently missing ground targets during strafe testing.”

And the larger, sensor-integration problems remain:

Equally or more burdensome for the pilot are the multiple false targets and/or false threats being created by the apparently inherent inability of the F-35’s software to merge into one all of the network’s multiple, somewhat inaccurate position reports for any single target or threat.

If an airplane is heading right for you, your senses and brain are able to integrate (“fuse”) the moving image of the plane (eyes), the increasing sound (ears), perhaps even the heat (touch), and the smell (nose) of jet fuel, and calculate that you should duck, fling yourself to the ground or whatever. If you also were holding a cellphone that could display the airplane’s radar signature, you could integrate that too. The HMDS can’t do that; the display — using my imagination here — would present the pilot with one blip for the visual sensors, a second blip for the sound sensors, a third blip for the heat sensors, and another blip for the radar signature. Confusing, especially if there’s more than one enemy plane! And the result:

This also creates more work for the pilots as they have to figure out which targets are real and which aren’t, usually by verbally confirming them with other pilots, the very action the sensor fusion system is intended to replace

“Verbally confirming them with other pilots.” Too bad they just can’t open the canopy and shout, eh?

To the mission systems software. We all know how easy it is to create, upload, and download huge files, especially in the battlefield-like conditions of our desks and coffee shops:

Much of the F-35’s promised stealth capability depends on the F-35 computer system calculating optimal flight paths through the enemy’s defense array of radars, SAM missiles, and airborne fighters. The calculations depend on huge files of threat maps, threat electronic signals, and information about threat missiles, as well as data about F-35 and other friendly systems. These massive files are called Mission Data Loads (MDLs). Separate Mission Data Loads have to be created to fit the specifics of each potential combat theater. Further, they have to be updated rapidly whenever new intelligence arrives or when the threat and the combat scenario change. Without up-to-date, well-verified MDLs, the F-35’s systems will not be able to properly find and attack targets or evade threats. These MDLs are created at the Reprogramming Lab.

DOT&E has repeatedly reported on the Lab’s shortfalls and inordinate lead times in creating these files: it takes up to 15 months to create and validate each of these files, and a minimum of six files are needed, one for each major combat theater where F-35s might be deployed plus one specifically for the operational test range environment. Because each threat country’s military operates with different equipment, more than five combat theater files may well prove necessary. Based on the estimate provided by DOT&E, the Reprogramming Lab may not even be able to provide the operational test MDL before the end of calendar year 2018, four months after the presently promised start of IOT&E. Unfortunately, despite DOT&E’s repeated warnings regarding shortfalls with the Lab, officials in the Program Office and at Lockheed Martin have not invested enough resources in it. As a result, the Lab lacks effective capability and is late in delivering the much-needed Mission Data Loads, both for the IOT&E and for actual F-35 deployments.

“15 months.” That’s about the time between Fort Sumter and the Battle of Shiloh. Good thing Grant didn’t have to wait for an MDL. And after we get the MDL installed:

Pilots are supposed to be able to program mission-specific planning data into an Offboard Mission Support workstation. These data files are then carried out to the flight line to be loaded onto the F-35 with a Portable Memory Device. Pilots have found that it is taking too long to input and transfer mission plans this way, so instead they are choosing to manually enter their plans while sitting in the cockpit.

“Manually enter their plans.” No possibility for errors here! Who designed this software? The same team that wrote the robot car software for Travis KalanicK

* * *

Here’s what I don’t understand; that is, the “mystery” of the post’s title. (I should have apologized in advance for meandering to a conclusion where I’m just spitballing, but there it is. Sometimes posts are journeys of discovery!)

“We’re an empire now,” as Karl Rove famously said, “and when we act, we create our own reality.” That doesn’t seem to be working out real well for the F-35 program. But the servants of empire need weapons that actually function; we can hardly send in the gunboats to collect rents for our coupon clippers if the hulls of our ships corrode, or if the guns all pull to the right, randomly, or if the gunnery officers have to calculate their trajectories manually, at speed. And the firms manufacturing those gunboats need to understand this, and construct the ships accordingly. And in the main, they did.

I don’t see, then, how the F-35 — assuming that all the Pentagon reports and the work of POGO aren’t a ginormous deception operation, and the plane is not in fact the greatest thing since sliced collateral damage — can function to carry out an imperial strategy, no matter how that mission is defined operationally. In the larger context: Do we even have a strategy into which its mission would fit? For example, in Syria: Do we have any concept what victory would look like? To put this another way, the Maginot Line was a bad idea; but it was at least rationally related to a bad strategy — one that at least had a concept of victory — and you can see how that bad strategy evolved from the history of the French military, and the lessons (and trauma) of World War I. And although the Maginot Line was a bad idea, at least the firms who constructed it did a good job; so far as I know, the French didn’t have to do the equivalent of cutting holes in an already constructed, stealthy airplane to solve problems; and when they fired the guns, they weren’t using displays that gave them, literally, no clarity about the target they were firing at.[3]

All of which leads me to question Rove’s statement, that “we’re an empire now.” Perhaps — pace the 102-year-old classic on the topic — the imperial frame is not a useful way of looking at the United States, or at our current plight. From the conclusion of the 2017 article on Syria to which I linked this morning:

The suppression of war’s morality in American public discourse has not only occurred with respect to Syria — it is a general characteristic of foreign-policy discussion. The reason why is pretty simple: America is now involved in so many wars in so many different places, and there exists such an overwhelming bipartisan consensus that involvement in these wars is necessary and to the US advantage, that to confront the morality of our militarism honestly would require an almost total overhaul of America’s role in the world….

Opposing this kind of pervasive, amoral militarism in the US cannot just be a matter of demonizing the executive, however, no matter how repulsive this particular executive may be. American militarism was thriving well before Trump hatched his campaign plans, and will outlast his sad and flailing administration. Even if Trump were to adopt a stance of rigid isolationism, forgoing all direct American military involvement in the conflicts and wars of foreign nations, America would still be one of the single biggest engines of militarism by virtue of its arms trade.

The anti-imperialist analysis of global conflict, in which America is almost always seen as the primary bad actor, is useful and productive, but the Syrian war has exposed its limits. The political interests involved in the war are so complicated and numerous that even if the US government were persuaded to abandon the pursuit of any of its ambitions in the Middle East, the war would likely continue unabated. Only an international effort to set aside those interests, to remoralize the discussion around war and acknowledge that wars are atrocities by definition, will produce a solution. What’s needed is not an anti-imperialist analysis but an antimilitarist one. Fortunately, antimilitarism is an authentically internationalist stance, for the simple reason that war is equally bad for everyone on the receiving end of it.

The F-35, considered from the standpoint of imperial dominance, doesn’t seem fit-for-purpose, because it’s such a bad aircraft. If the imperial frame, then, cannot give an account of the most expensive weapons system in world history, perhaps it’s not an especially useful analytical tool. Perhaps, then, militarism is a better one. I don’t see conceptual difficulties with glorifying the military while simultaneously producing fabulist weapons; war is a racket after all. And while imperialism is hard to translate into a domestic political context — certainly the anti-war movement has had great difficulty doing so — perhaps militarism will not be[4]. “War, what is it good for?”


[1] Fascinatingly, the Defense Department has a Corrosion Policy and Oversight Office, and it issued a report on corrosion in both the F-22 and the F-35 way back in 2010:

The evaluation team found two fundamental causes of corrosion issues that are common to both the F-22 and F-35 aircraft, Dunmire said. First, on neither aircraft is “corrosion resistance” defined as a requirement for the user [hoo boy], in spite of

the fact that users operate and maintain both systems in severely corrosive desert and saltwater environments. Second, presently there are no tests for corrosion on either aircraft at the operational level [wowsers]. “Even though system specifications call for a design service life of 20 years for the F-22 and 30 years for the F-35, we have no method for verifying that tests on aircraft components will translate into these respective service lives,” he said. According to the GAO report [assessing te CPOO’s report], “No operational-level test for corrosion was conducted on the F-22 prior to initial operating capability, and none are currently planned for the F-35.”

So, no user requirements and no ability to test. It’s not surprising there are quality assurance problems. Now, it’s entirely possible that these systemic problems had been addressed today, eight years after the CPOO’s report, but by the time they were brought to light, development had been progessing for 2010 – 1992 = 18 years, and the aircraft had been flying for 2010 – 2000 = 10 years, and that’s a lot of backfilling to do, even with infinite amounts of money.

[2] I forgot the important part! Back to Reuters:

The F-35 business accounts for about a quarter of Lockheed’s total revenue. During the third quarter, sales at Lockheed’s aeronautics business increased 14 percent to $4.7 billion, led by higher sales of the F-35 and highlighting the program’s importance to Lockheed’s profitability.


[3] Certainly subject to correction by Maginot Line experts, of whom we have no doubt at least one, the NC commentariat being what it is.

[4] The F-35 has a Twitter account:

I’m not sure the F-35’s trope is correct; closed minds seem to function perfectly well, for some definition of function, as our political environment shows. Nevertheless, I don’t think “open mind” necessarily means what the F-35 thinks it means.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Globalization, Guest Post, Politics, Technology and innovation on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


    1. Tom Stone

      The F35 was conceptually flawed from the git go.
      It’s supposed to be a ‘Do it all Airplane” that can fulfill multiple roles…even if it actually worked it would not be close to optimal for any one of the roles required of combat aircraft.
      Gunship, dogfighter, bomber. stand off missile platform…
      The Navy has it’s own boondoggle, the little crappy ships.
      Designed for one task!
      And FUBAR to an unbelievable degree.
      It’s called corruption when people are being straightforward.

      1. Harrold

        The F-111 was also designed to be a multi-use aircraft ( all weather attack aircraft, carrier based fighter, and nuclear bomber ). It was a spectacular disaster.

        The only positive from the F-111 was that the Soviets copied the design for several aircraft.

      2. albert

        The F-35 ‘concept’ was really ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. By far the worst idea I have seen in the many decades I’ve been following this stuff. The US War Machine has apparently morphed into a constant-growth system, where there is a self-generated demand for ever more complex and sophisticated machines, and ever more complex software to run them. Their near 100% reliance on digital technology worries me. Yeah, it’s amazing when it works, but what if the FCS isn’t set up correctly? (for details, see

        Do we -really- need the F-35? Why not design non-piloted fighters? That’s the future.

        Like Fats used to say, “One never knows, do one?
        . .. . .. — ….

  1. PlutoniumKun

    Regarding the Maginot line, contrary to myth, it was a 100% success, it did exactly what it was designed to do – force an invading German army into taking a long, difficult northerly loop through difficult terrain in order to get to Paris and the French heartlands. It was the ‘Part B’ of the defence plan that went a little awry.

    1. rd

      The baffling part was that much of the German invasion in World War I came through Flanders in Belgium and almost succeeded then. For some reason, the French didn’t appear to think that would recur.

      1. Frenchguy

        Actually, the French planned exactly for that and the Germans, at first, were also planning that. Through a mixture of luck (plans fell into the hand of allies) and talent (having Manstein in your staff), the Germans changed at the last moment and they went through the Ardennes, not along the WWI line.

        1. JBird

          Also putting some of the weakest divisions at the very hinge of the where the mobile forces of the Allied armies and the Maginot Line met was a problem. The French assumed that the Germans could not get through the Ardennes Forest in large numbers quickly enough, which the Germans did do with their armor no less, and with aerial support, went right though French, which split the best, most mobile British and French divisions from the Maginot Line, and allowed the Germans to get behind them.

        2. Altandmain

          Erich von Manstein is one of the most brilliant strategists in history. I would consider him on a top tier alongside Subotai.

          Another consideration is that Heinz Guderian, who basically led the changes of Germany’s Panzer forces in between the two world wars, ignored orders to hold position and continued to advance.

      2. Procopius

        I was always interested by the widely made statement that the High Command believed the Ardennes Forest, with its network of paved roads and highways, was impassable for a modern army. Then I remember the tale of the British staff officer who finally, after the Armistice, went to the former front. He is said to have broken down and wept. “My God, we were sending men into that?” He had never thought to go look before.

  2. Samuel Conner

    Perhaps a private corporation can purchase old A-10s as they are retired and provide contract air support to the Army. It might be a less punishing career path for the pilots the Air Force is having a hard time retaining.

  3. Phil Snead

    Calling customer service …. What’s the return policy on these, and do I need to use the original box my 2004 model came in?

  4. rd

    Single-purpose designs allow for single-minded focus on requirements with little need for compromise.

    Examples: B-52, A-10, F-15, F-16, F-18…. all of which have been functioning admirably for decades,

    The F-35 is a Swiss Army Knife, full of compromises. Swiss Army Knives are good for light and occasional duty, but if you really want a job done well on a regular basis, you go with a single-purpose design (Buck knife, screwdriver, can opener, wine opener, file, etc.)

    1. Procopius

      Also, the contracts to manufacture were finalized before the design was. This is always prelude to disaster. The present situation seems to be, because unnamed criminals were allowed to order the purchase of several hundred of these wrecks, we can never just cancel the project and write off the hundreds of billions already spent as sunk costs. We are doomed to an unending cycle of trying to repair the unworkable older versions we already have, while ordering more “new and improved” versions that have their own, unique problems. The Russians almost fell into the same trap with their Su-57, going into production before the engine was actually ready for production, but according to recent reports have managed to replace the older engines in the earliest models. I haven’t heard of the Chinese having problems with the Chengdu J-20, so it’s likely that both countries have functioning 5th generation fighters.

  5. PlutoniumKun

    Just a few observations:

    1. Lockheed as a company seems to have had an even more corrupt history than most weapons manufacturers. There is no particular reason to believe they are any more ethical than they were in the 1970’s. It is curious how many American ‘allies’ have jumped on the F-35 bandwagon, despite their being plenty of relatively more affordable and working combat aircraft.

    2. Not mentioned in the article is that the F-35 is on a concurrency contract – i.e. the US government is entirely committed to the purchase of the weapon, and has been long before they started flying. This is the exact same type of contract that led to the colossal waste of money of the Littoral Combat ship, among other programmes. This makes the F-35 essentially impossible to cancel, at least without a enormous cost.

    3. The ‘deeper’ origin of the problems is the weird (to me as an outsider) oversized political influence of the Marines. They are the ones who want the VSTOL version – it is this requirement which is the root of such a poor quality basic airframe design. Its simply not possible to design one aircraft to do so many things. And why on earth does a military with so many fleet carriers also need mini carriers with VSTOL? It makes no sense.

    1. sgt_doom

      ” It makes no sense.”

      Well . . . sure it does, when one examines those highly paid positions the retired general officers go to. . .

      1. popeye

        I wondered why I keep seeing brand new Ferrari, Bentley etc with Veteran license plates driving around here in AZ.

    2. fajensen

      Don’t forget the “Joint-factor”. The Marines, The Navy and the Air Force all agree on one thing: Nobody wants *any* of that “Jointy”, Communist and Unnatural “Collaboration” stuff spoiling their vital fluids.

      The main reason is that a successful common design would allow their Historic Enemies – a.k.a any competing service – to requisition *their* spares, *their* planes and even *their* personnel. That is not ON. It is *already bad enough* that JP-4 is standardised!!

      Finding that they could not kill this idea “politically”, they changed tack, “went with the programme”, the Embrace and Extinguish one, donned their “Yessir, Can-Do Hats” and added their special system requirements with fanatic enthusiasm. Requirements, that are specifically intended to eliminate any “Joint-ness” in the F35 programme.

      They don’t care that the F-35 doesn’t work. The point is to prove the futility of this line of thinking so nobody will try that again for the next 3-4 generations or so.

      1. EGrise

        ^^^This is an important point, and one that many analysts of the F35 farce situation are missing.

  6. Synoia

    assuming it can be stealthy, and that the whole stealth technology is not an enormous scam

    The F35 could be stealthy to radar. On on infra red it has a huge signature.

    If I were building an F35 detector, guess where I’d spend my money?

    I am reminded of two things:
    1. A Camel is a horse designed by a committee.
    2. The software for the F32 is a airplane operating system. It will last for many generations and many types of planes.

      1. Harrold

        “the F-35B (Marine Corps) and F-35C (Navy) both use an externally mounted cannon pod”

        I have to think mounting things on the outside of the airplane just might effect the stealthy capabilities a tad.

    1. XXYY

      I remember reading about the initial tests of stealth aircraft by Northrop. During one test, the supposedly-stealthy plane had a huge, almost “normal” radar signature. Puzzled technicians found the reason: a single screw head was accidentally sticking out of the plane 1/4 inch. This gives a great idea of how ridiculous and impractical stealth technology is even under ideal testing conditions.

      During an actual war, of course, one could reasonably expect damage to the airframe, if not bullet or shrapnel holes, at least dings, scrapes, and poorly fitted panels during hurried maintenance. So stealth seems like a joke in practice, and all the compromises made in the name of “stealthiness” were made for no reason.

      I understand stealth only works for the commonly-used radar frequencies anyway: the Russians for one are reportedly simply using other radar frequencies, as well as infrared and optical systems, and no longer consider stealth much of a threat.

      Still a big selling point by Northrop, though.

  7. Tomonthebeach

    We seem to be engaged in a desperate arms race with ourselves.

    As a result, the US scraps planes with proven utility and long-standing durability in favor of rushed-to-market state-of-the-art hardware that reminds one of the Jaguar XKE – fast, nimble, and plagued by glitches.

    The Pentagon seems to think that WW-III will be WW-II with nukes despite compelling evidence that US democracy and the US economy can be destroyed by hackers and internet trolls without firing a shot or launching a single Mig or J-20. Meanwhile, the combat we actually engage in daily gets short shrift as our boots on the ground continue to look like they are being equipped by Rube Golberg’s ghost.

  8. WobblyTelomeres

    Equally or more burdensome for the pilot are the multiple false targets and/or false threats being created by the apparently inherent inability of the F-35’s software to merge into one all of the network’s multiple, somewhat inaccurate position reports for any single target or threat.

    Just like autonomous vehicles, the F-35 software must process Markov chains, constructing and collapsing multiple probabilistic realities, in real time. Unfortunately, most of the LockMart engineers I have met wouldn’t know a Markov chain if it jumped up and bit them on the … hiney. As for whether a one or two star would have a clue? I’m no longer a betting man, but I think I’d jump on that one.

  9. John Zelnicker

    Lambert – Thank you for digging into this. I’ve wanted to see an analysis like this of the F-35’s problems, but haven’t had the time to do the research. I appreciate you doing it for me and writing it up. :-)

  10. johnnygl

    I think we need an intersectional lens to combine…

    1) imperialism
    2) bureaucratic groupthink
    3) graft
    4) beyond graft, our economy seems increasingly optimised to sell vaporware goods/services to various counterparties.

    I think i’m joking…but i’m not sure…. ;)

    1. johnnygl

      Re: 4, it seems like companies sell IDEAS more than finished products that function reliably these days.

      1. jo6pac

        That’s true Russian contractors build a working model of aircraft and small weapons then hand over to the arm service to test. The changes are made and the govt. then buys the system. What a concept;-)

      2. beth

        I never worked for the military but I think the way it works is that the sales people along with the client designs the product/service then comes back to his/her company and relates what was sold.

        I ran into one employee & told her what we would need to do. She argued that we could not do it. About three months later she was gone.

    2. JBird

      Maybe the plan is for the United States to really lose those unnecessary wars. Then the defense grifters contractors can make even more profit selling stuff that might actually work.

  11. gcw

    “The most expensive weapon every built, if built is the word I want: the F-35.” And teachers are on strike because they don’t have enough schoolbooks. We are indeed a civilization circling the drain.

    1. Ignacio

      This is just the best commentary illustrating this human failure named F35. It could be worse: imagine the thing worked as expected. We are humans and make mistakes all the time. Somehow to see that these mistakes are made with such sophisticated weapon is heartening.

  12. jo6pac

    There use to be a u-tube clip of a Canadian test pilot talking about the f-35 saying a F-16 or 18 could take it out of the sky with very little difficulty.

    Pilots weighing under 127 pounds could die when ejecting out of the plane.
    The plane parts are built 43 states and I think 5 countries.
    The planes computers received virus from techs plugging the I-phone and other smart systems to listen to music.
    The oxygen system is yet to be fixed so Lockheed changed the primaries.
    My favorite is the rocket launch system that inside the plane doesn’t work yet. There is just few small problem like the opening isn’t big enough for the rocket holder/launcher, the rockets are two big for both. All parts built by separate companies. The good news is the working on a fix and the bad news is the software won’t be ready anytime soon.

    Bernie Sanders favorite plane.

    If you’ve have watched any u-tube clips of the latest Russian fighters will lets just say they work like they’re suppose to.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The favorite plane of Bernie Sanders and 89 other Senators as well. That’s why the military industrial contractors have learned to sub-sub-sub contract the work to huge numbers of little helpers all over the country. Having some F-35 work being done in each of 45 separate states subjects each of 90 separate Senators to extortion to continue the program through threat of losing all those good jobs if the program is ended.

      The F-35 program is spread out into thousands of little tendrils all over the country in the same way as an astroglioma is spread in thousands of little tendrils throughout an afflicted brain. And it will be just as hard to dig out and destroy.

  13. unna

    Maybe it’s just my sick sense of a joke, but there was this problem in my kid’s Canadian HS math course, which from my POV was poking fun at the fake stealthyness of the F-35:

    “Applying the Cosine Law: A Nebo SUV Counterstealth radar has detected an F-35 fighter jet at a range of 41 km and is tracking an Su-35S Russian fighter at 34 km. The angle between the two aircraft is 112 degrees. How far apart are they rounded to the nearest 10th?”

    Am I wrong, but are certain Canadian math teachers laughing at the F-35, in an understated and polite manner, naturally? As a duel American-Canadian citizen, I’m so torn….

    1. OIFVet

      Man, having your citizenships duel each other must be terrible! Mine are mercifully at peace with one another. Sorry but I couldn’t resist :)

  14. Financialwarfare-35

    F-35 could well be a part of the financial warfare plan. Force allies to buy this crap, knowing well that the minions in EU don’t have the balls to say no to self-destructive action and the fools in the Middle-East that don’t have the brains to say no.

    1. cocomaan

      You need to lose a war in order to keep fighting it. Winning too fast means you can’t continue to churn out bullets beans and bodies for the effort.

      So, easy, equip all your allies with shitty weapons and let that war grind on!

  15. detrie

    Lockheed should do what Boeing does. De-unionise the workforce, outsource more or bring in cheaper labour from Mexico, etc. Threatening staff also ‘helps’. It’s won’t solve quality control issues, (making things worse, as Boeing discovered with the dreamliner), but it will reduce short term costs and improve margins. Best of all, the CEO and [millionaire] shareholders will get their bonuses.

  16. Left in Wisconsin

    1. This is truly outstanding analysis.

    2. AFAIK (and I really should know better), imperialism is a nation-state project. Generally, one hears that it is the U.S., or the U.S. MIC, that is imperialist. At first blush, militarism would also seem to be a nation-state project, what with military budgets and armies being elements of nation-states.

    Yet it seems that one of the most notable aspects of the current period is the mix of national and transnational elements. So one question is, are Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics, etc. “national champions” of the military variety (they certainly like to portray themselves this way), or are they part of a trans-national corporate class? It gets complicated because trans-national corporations originate and are based somewhere, are disproportionately USAmerican, and probably influential in U.S. politics to greater degree than elsewhere (which is to say, driving domestic and foreign policy here to be oriented toward the interests of trans-national corporations).

    One thing I like about the concept of militarism is that one can conceive of a corporate militarist project that is a combination of national and trans-national. Whereas a military militarist project would presumably be national and directed toward winning (however defined), a corporate militarist project would be targeted toward profit opportunities, independent of national military success. Since it is hard to imagine a successful militarist project without the military on board, such a project would seem to require convincing the military that a) expensive technology wins and b) winning can be defined as maintaining the centrality of militarism (i.e. perpetual war) rather than specific victories in combat. Seems plausible to me.

    1. Olivier

      Actually Lambert cribbed a couple of morsels from the analysis (link in the text) for their entertainment value. You need to read the original article to get a sense of how comprehensive the disaster is.

  17. Chauncey Gardiner

    Although thought-provoking, I struggled with the purpose of this post. Seems to have three unrelated themes to me: F-35 dysfunctionality and the reasons, America’s role in the world, and militarism as a value in our culture (as distinguished from imperialism).

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      What I am struggling with is find a frame that gives an account of why the F-35 is the evident monstrosity that it is. Imperialism doesn’t do it, because imperialism’s weapons need to actually work.* So what would be the alternative frame? See Left in Wisconsin’s comment here.

      * “Whatever happens we have got / The Maxim Gun, and they have not.” —Hillaire Belloc

      But the gatling gun actually has to work, if one is to slaughter the natives with it.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think the waste involved actually does say something about the imperial project, especially when you compare the situation now to the WWII (to bring things back to the Maginot Line example).

        The first few months of all the major actions in WWII were marked by all the major combatants discovering their armies were riddled with timeservers and incompetents, and vast amounts of useless weaponry (for every Spitfire, there was a Defiant). Probably only the Japanese Navy and the German armoured divisions showed their qualities from the start. It took at least a year or more for the British and US (and the Soviets) to fire the substandard officers (shoot them in the case of the Soviets), dump their unworkable machinery, and focus ruthlessly on winning. The French never got the chance to do that. By 1944, all the allied militaries were very ruthlessly effective fighting forces with little or no fat or slack.

        Cold hard reality has a habit of sobering up badly run militaries. What is striking about the current US military is that despite a constant record of failure, there has never, since 1941, been anything close to the sort of catastrophe that has forced major change. Unless I’m mistaken, even the fall of Saigon was not enough to result in a wholesale cull of the office corps, and certainly there have been no fundamental changes in tactics.

        So what you have i think is the worst of all worlds – a military that is successful enough to avoid having to face up to its own failures, but not good enough to actually win any conflict. The result is a giant self licking ice cream cone. This will continue, up until the point where it can’t.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          It was the same in the Civil War. Grant had to fire a lot of Generals before Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan (and one of them, McClellan, actively opposed his war aims).

          War seems to have exercised a purgative effect on the chain of command. Nothing like that is happening now.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            To continue historical analogies, the Japanese army never properly modernised its weapons or tactics throughout WWII. They Japanese were the only major land combatant to avoid the trenches of WWI and so clung to outdated notions of mass attacks and rigid line defences. They should have had a rude awakening when they were trounced by a Russian force on the Mongolian border in 1938, but failed to do so – they never made fundamental changes. Their only land opponents were in Manchuria and China, where old style tactics worked (albeit at a huge casualty rate, which never seemed to worry them too much). So by 1941 the Japanese had a huge, and (on paper) highly experienced army, which nonetheless was not equipped to face modern opponents. This is in contrast to the Imperial Japanese Navy, which proved to be as good as any in the world ship for ship at the period.

            From 1943 onwards then, the Japanese army, despite its fanaticism and discipline proved all too easy to defeat (as can be seen by the massively lobsided casualty figures in even the most brutal battles). They were simply fighting the wrong war with the wrong tactics and the wrong weapons, and for institutional and cultural reasons never learned their lesson.

            1. visitor

              During WWII, Japan no longer had enough resources and slack to change its armament (which would require re-tooling, enhancing logistics to support both older equipment being phased out and new gear being phased in, and troop re-training), despite some quite good projects and prototypes for tanks and airplanes.

              As for being trounced by the Soviet, the battle of Khalkhin Gol (actually a whole campaign) occurred in 1939 — it actually concluded a couple of weeks into WWII. The outcome of previous battles between the USSR and Japanese forces in the region was varied, but often resulted in such significant Soviet losses that the Japanese assumed their tactics were correct if lacking in scale. Khalkhin Gol was a shock that dispelled that notion, and it did result in a strategic shift — from an emphasis on army-driven operations and areas of conquest to navy-driven ones.

              1. JBird

                They couldn’t modernize because both the Japanese industry, and the army’s attention to logistics was lacking. All the major efforts into armaments went to the navy as one could sort of fight without tanks, but they really needed well built warships and planes for modern warfare especially as an island nation; Japan could not do both a modern navy and a modern army. They also had a huge blind spot on logistics and it was only from 1943 onward did they focus any real attention and effort into building a proper merchant marine with enough escorts to keep it afloat. That was just too late as the early 1930s, or even the 1920s would have been the right time. So they conquered all that territory, but lacked the infrastructure to make the infrastructure to supply their entire war effort, especially as it was being destroyed by the Americans and hindered by the Chinese and anyone else who could do so.

                I noticed that whatever the American government and military’s faults are a lack of focus on building and supplying the military during a war is not one of them. Perhaps that is the memory of Valley Forge. The story of the American army almost freezing and starving to death at the beginning of the American Revolution is emphasized in history classes for it’s somewhat heroic quality, but that fact and the that the country to had to beg for credit and supplies, even for its gunpowder from the French, and the Dutch, across an ocean also made clear on to the military what really determines a military victory. The getting of, and the logistics for, of food, weapons, ammunition, and whatever else a military needs to fight. Also being a somewhat isolated country helped it overcome whatever flaws it carried into a war. Well, there was the Spanish-American War. The American military was completely unprepared to fight and it was Spain’s greater unpreparedness that enabled the Americans to win.

                However, it still doesn’t changed the strange lack of attention on creating, maintaining, and defending an infrastructure to supply the military in whatever it needs and for the length of a war that others had. It is not just in World War Two and with the Japanese. Everybody seems to have a pattern of underestimating just what was needed to fight whatever war they were in. Japan, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, China, maybe even France. For example, the Germany’s economy was not completely switched into a wartime one until 1943 which is rather insane. The Japanese had excellent very well trained naval pilots and insisted on training the same few hundred of them each each the year before the war as during, which could be lost in a day as at the Battle of Midway. Everyone else was cranking them in the thousands as quickly as possible using the well trained enough, not the perfectly trained, method.

                1. PlutoniumKun

                  You are right of course that the Japanese proved unable to adapt to the circumstances of war. The Germans never went on full mobilisation until 1943 primarily because Hitler was at heart a politician – he feared a domestic backlash from mobilisation so postponed it until it was unavoidable.

                  In Japan, it was partly a matter of structure, partly pragmatism. The Japanese were fully aware they could never win a war of attrition against the US, or the Soviets for that matter. So their entire strategy was based around a series of rapid victories to drive the Imperial Powers (as they saw them) out of the Pacific. They believed that there was no stomach for a long war in the US, so if they could inflict enough major defeats the British and French would abandon their colonies and the US would concede the western Pacific to Japan. In other circumstances, they might have been right.

                  Another factor in the Japanese war machine is that it was surprisingly fractured. The military was split into warring factions (assassinations of officers by rival factions was quite common), and there was a surprising amount of freedom given to local commanders – this is one reason why the Japanese record of occupation was so mixed – some commanders were unbelievably brutal to the conquered, others acted with the utmost care and civility. Its unsurprising that in those circumstances it proved almost impossible to carry out the sort of fundamental restructuring of the military that was obviously needed once the US turned the tide. Not that it would have made much difference, the odds against them were overwhelming once initial momentum failed to completely defeat the US.

              2. PlutoniumKun

                Thanks, you are right, the Nomonhan incident (as the Japanese called it) was in 1939, and you are right that it was the main reason why the original Japanese plans – for expansion into Siberia – was abandoned in favour of Pacific operations. 20th Century history might have been very different had that battle not occurred. No Pearl Harbour, no Pacific theatre of WWII, and Stalin caught in a two-front war.

        2. Andrew Dodds

          Actually, Vietnam was probably the last time the US fought an enemy capable of inflicting significant losses, they were quite capable by the end. The problem there was that the obvious way of winning – invade North Vietnam – was off the political table. Imagine a version of WWII where we are not allowed to invade Germany..

          But yes, the larger point that militaries tend to ossify over time if they don’t face significant battles is true. Has to be mentioned, though, that this also applies – indeed more so – to Russia and China. The last major Russian engagements were in Afghanistan in the 1980s; China has not fought a serious war since Korea. At least the large number of brush-file wars that the US is involved in means that it has a cadre of battle-experienced soldiers.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            I don’t believe that an invasion of North Vietnam was ever off the table politically – the US dropped more bombs on north Vietnam than on Germany (and dropped almost as much on ‘neutral’ Laos and Cambodia), and supported SVA invasions of Laos. The US didn’t invade north Vietnam because if they couldn’t control South Vietnam, they certainly couldn’t defeat the VC on their own territory. This is little more than the old ‘shot in the back’ theory. The US would certainly have invaded if it was possible. The US lost in Vietnam because the NVA defeated the US and its allies tactically and strategically, its that simple.

            China has had one major land war since Korea – they invaded North Vietnam in 1979. And they were largely defeated (officially, it was something of a draw). This has long had a chastening effect and has made the CCP wary about relying on direct military power. The invasion and pacification of Tibet was also much bloodier affair than they’ve ever admitted. They’ve also had some large scale conflicts with the Indian Army in the Himalayas, usually quite successfully.

            The Russians have fought two wars in Chechnya – the Chechens were surprisingly well equipped with stolen Soviet weaponry and smuggled weapons sent by Gulf sponsors. The Russians were badly burned in the first war, finding their tanks in particular were useless in close up urban combat and their tactics were hopelessly inadequate. They learned quite a few lessons and won the second Chechen War quite easily. They’ve also, of course, been involved in the Ukraine where no doubt many lessons have been learned. I also don’t doubt they’ve learned a lot in Syria, especially from observing Hezbollah in action and in testing their tanks against TOW missiles.

            1. Andrew Dodds

              Have to disagree on Vietnam.. Taking the conflict to North Vietnam would have starved the Southern insurgency, which was largely Northern-based after Tet. And attacking there would have been easier than trying to defend a huge area of jungle. But it carried the risk of going nuclear with China or Russia getting involved.

              They were not shot in the back, it was just a situation where they had no realistic plan for winning. All the Vietnamese had to do was stay in the field long enough.

            2. visitor

              Let us not forget the affair with Georgia, which, after Chechnya, constituted a further phase of learning what works/what does not for the Russian military.

        3. Harrold

          Stalin executed all of the competent Russian military leaders in the Great Purge of the 1930’s. Some estimates are that 25%-50% of the officers were executed or imprisoned, but I don’t think we will ever know as the person in charge (Yezhov) was also executed :-)

      2. Louis Fyne

        – why the F-35 is the evident monstrosity that it is.-

        example, given the layout of the cockpit, a F-35 pilot can’t even turn his head to look around his shoulder. you don’t need eyeballs when you’ve got whizbang tech and stealth. it’s a feature not a bug.

        1. Rube Goldberg tech solutions solve everything (and conveniently have higher margins)

        2. The Pentagon sold the lame idea to politicans that it’s possible to have ‘one platform: Jack of all trades, master of all” . when this concept proved insufficient with the F-4 and F-111—both originally conceived as one size-fits-all platforms.

        3. politicians rarely cut losses—sunk costs + subcontractors in your backyard.

        4. foreign buyers who buy US arms to curry favor papers over a lot of sins. So does never fighting a first world enemy.

      3. Chauncey Gardiner

        Appreciate the responses. If one were to prepare a hypothetical Ppt presentation of the issues WRT to this aircraft-as-poster-child that have been so well summarized in the post, suggest inclusion of the following prerequisites:

        • Endless wars and/or engineered enemies.
        • Suppression of public conversation and mainstream media coverage about the morality of war.
        • Issues with complex adaptive systems.
        • Large number of states (80 percent) with economic involvement in manufacture and support of the weapons system.
        • In addition to “corporate militarism”, as Jacob Needleman said in his 1994 book “Money and the Meaning of Life”, we love money too much. Why is this so? (Interestingly, he added that the Russians don’t love money enough.)

        Just my thoughts. Thanks.

  18. The Rev Kev

    Thanks Lambert for bringing this monstrosity back up again. It’s kinda like the Democratic National Committee in that you can never put the boot in enough times for the damage that they have caused.
    For those with a technical taste, there is a great page at Air Power Australia ( with heaps of tech data and a ton of links to explore this subject in depth. I would especially draw commentators attention to the chart marked “Is the JSF Really a Fifth Generation Fighter?” as well.
    The reason that it figures in this publication is that we are buying this turkey. The requirements for a new plane for our Air Force would include long range because of distances involved, twin engines so that if one died, the plane could be brought in safely, and a large bombing capacity. The aircraft that we had before was a great fit – the F-111 aka the “Pig”. With all this in mind, the Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, decided on the F-35 which had a short range, a single engine and a very limited bombing capacity.
    I am going to put it on the line and say that countries like mine that brought in on this were not buying an aircraft. What they were buying instead was an American promise of military support in times of trouble and a meshing in of our military establishments. I believe that in old Chicago that they called this arrangement a “protection racket”. Sounds great until a man like Trump is elected who is infamous for his petulance and suddenly all those promises do not look so ironclad. In fact, right after becoming President, Trump got into a telephone fight with the Australian Prime Minister. I don’t know why. Maybe Trump though that he was talking with the Austrian Prime Minister.
    Now Indonesia has announce that they are buying 11 Sukhoi Su-35 jets from Russia which will be a great fit for them. For Australia, not so much. Those Russian jets work and have done sterling work in the skies over Syria. The F-35s? Well, not that long ago a flight of F-35s was getting ready to take off and only one of them could successfully boot up their F-35 to actually take off. Maybe we should copy the US military and hedge our bets by buying a squadron of Super Hornets as well.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The Australian case is the most glaring example of where there must be some sort of influence peddling going on. You don’t need to be a military strategist to see that the F-35 is entirely the wrong aircraft for Australian needs (even if it worked as advertised). If the logic behind its purpose is that its needed to ‘tie in’ US guarantees of security, then its a hellishly expensive way to do it.

  19. Oregoncharles

    We should bring back the time-honored “War Profiteer” term, that dates back to post-WWI. Just 100 years ago.

    Do you suppose it’s due again? We seem to have dodged a bullet when Trump fired off his, umm, missiles at Syria, again, but how long can that last?

  20. Temporarily Sane

    Seems “cutting edge technology” is a proxy for “quality design and workmanship.” A scratch on its wing can defeat our, uh, “world class stealth super fighter” but boy do the promo videos look cool! It’s like TPTB are hoping cool looking tech will bamboozle its foreign business and military rivals into submission and extend the lease on the creaky, cash hemorrhaging empire that even their subjects don’t want anymore. Yeah, good luck with that.

  21. Tyronius

    All this and the F-35 was already obsolete before it left the drawing board.

    See current work on UCAV, or unmanned combat air vehicles.

    To its credit, the F-35 is fulfilling its real mission in spectacular fashion; lining the pockets of Lockheed Martin stockholders with gold stolen from the American taxpayer- and our yet unborn children.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Federal taxes don’t fund Federal spending, so the “gold” (which isn’t gold) isn’t “stolen.”

      But the waste of productive resources is staggering.

    2. D

      well the drones work until some one figures out how to block their signals that the operator uses to instruct them with. Which the Russians and Chinese and others can figure out how to do huh? Among others too. as they say that isn’t rocket science

      1. blennylips

        As near as I can find, the Predator drone still uses a “nonsecure UAV link”.

        Iraqi insurgents intercepted video feeds, which were not encrypted, using a $26 piece of Russian software named SkyGrabber.[71][72] The encryption for the ROVER feeds was removed for performance reasons.[73] Work to secure the data feeds is to be completed by 2014.[74]

        [74]-> “Fixes on the way for nonsecure UAV links – Air Force News, news from Iraq”. Air Force Times. 20 December 2009. Retrieved 5 March 2013..

        1. Mel

          Do I recall, maybe during the Iraq war, that they dropped encryption because they needed to share the feeds with allies on the ground who couldn’t be cleared to handle the decryption methods?
          Security and business as usual are each others’ deadliest enemies.

          1. D

            Doesn’t really matter if it was secure or not, your opponent could just block your signals, and the drones either crash, or just fly on what ever the last course was.

  22. Eustache De Saint Pierre

    So basically the above does not bode well for America’s response to Russia’s apparent weapons upgrade. I could be incorrect in this assertion that subsequent to an earlier example of the Russians providing a similar surprise caused by Yuri Gagarin suddenly turning up in orbit – the US set up the publicly funded NASA that eventually successfully responded – something I suspect would not happen in today’s Neoliberal world.

    1. D

      Depends on how well the Russians have corrupted the GOP. Which just seems odd, being as they used to be so patriotic

  23. Skip Intro

    ‘Victory’ is a quaint and obsolete bit of pre-9/11 thinking. War is an end in itself, chaos is the desired result, in that it extends the justification for further war.

  24. Patrick Donnelly

    My contrarian view is that the 35 is either a phantom or else works quite well. USA strategy now as in WWII, taking decades of planning, is to appear weak.

    But by now, the RoW know that.

    The really stupid strategic error by Oceania was to use the tsunami weapon against a minor province engaged in a quarrel about oil revenues. Burma was advised to change its capital. RoW now know of cheap weapons to destroy entire cities.

    F35s? A sideshow.

  25. Vernon Hamilton

    “no user requirements and no ability to test.”

    sigh. Contract writing is a b*tch.

    reminds me of a statement Ive recalled often over the last 30 years, made by a GE (General Electric)
    start up engineer, ” just because you didn’t order it, doesn’t mean you don’t need it”

  26. Altandmain

    The purpose of this F35 is to make Lockheed Martin rich.

    That is the only logical conclusion. You cannot have an air superiority fighter, a tactical bomber, a close air support aircraft, and a VTOL aircraft in one frame. As they say the jack of all trades is the master of none.

    In some cases, it should be noted that the mission itself is questionable. Other here have noted the flaws of stealth. The other is that IRST (infrared sensors) are getting better. As a plane goes faster, the heat on its skin causes it to expand and it can be detected, radar stealth or not. The Europeans have some good IRST systems. The Russians are getting better with OLS-50, which is a QWIP IRST system.

    Another problem is that this weapon is not reliable. You need an aircraft that is reliable. Stealth means a tradeoff there. Unreliable equipment will break down the day you need it the most. Another is that the flight to maintenance ratio is going to be bad. That means fewer sorties per plane and it is vulnerable in a hangar.

    This whole project is a testament of the level of dysfunction and corruption in the US.

    1. D

      As its turns out you can do all but the short take off, we have 40 year old designs doing that, they just aren’t stealthy, and no short take off

      1. Altandmain

        The mission itself is very contradictory. VTOL (vertical take-off) needs to have an aircraft with a large fuselage that is not fit for air superiority. The F-35B has a giant lift fan to facilitate this, while the Harrier has jets.

        Short-take off means getting enough lift. There are ways to do this – catapults are most famously used on fighter aircraft for aircraft carriers, but large wings, rocket tanks (called RATO – rocket assisted take-off, etc).

        Aircraft design, like all engineering is all about trade-offs.

      1. Altandmain

        Aircraft with lower flight to maintenance ratios can be in the air more often, which means that for a given number of aircraft, you can outnumber the enemy.

        As far as aren’t they always in an aircraft? I was thinking about rough basing. Taking off from civilian roads and even grass fields. Sweden for example practices this with its Gripen aircraft – and it is designed to be maintained with just 1 technician and a small number of conscripts. I believe that the Russians also do this with their aircraft.

        Why? In the opening days of a war against an enemy that could fight back, there would be cruise or ballistic missile strikes against any airfields. Even if the planes are not destroyed (and hardened bunkers exist for this function), simply rendering the runways unusable could make the airfield worthless. I remember reading about one war, ,where the enemy forces of one nation jammed the hangar doors (the planes were not harmed as they were behind a bunker), and kept them there for the decisive point of the war.

        The only way to resolve this is to disperse your aircraft. That means that they must be able to tolerate operating on grass fields and roads. They must also not have a huge logistics train (which the F-35 will). Logistics is going to be a weakness of these fighters. To give an example, in Iraq, insurgents recognized one very big flaw in the US military – its massive fuel consumption. Tanks like the M1 Abrams, which has a gas turbine (a jet engine) drink fuel like mad. The tank’s front armor is hard to kill, but the fuel trucks are going to be soft skinned.

        Similar idea with the F-35, only the F-35 has even more weak points.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      One could shorten that title down a little more into . . .

      The Curious Case of the Flightless Plane.

  27. JBird

    I have to ask what are people’s opinions on all the drone, and AI run, warfare the American military, and I think to a lesser extent everyone else is so excited about? I mean it all suppose to make people on the battlefield obsolete, or at least make war won more quickly using fewer people, but every major war since 1914 has blown up in everyone’s faces, gotten much more horrific than planned, and merely leaves the horrified survivors regretting their choices, and modifying their methods and tools, not removing them.

    This does feel to me like an awful combination of Minority Report, Catch-22, and 1984, with a dash of All Quiet on the Western Front. I have this horrible, horrible feeling that with the global ruling elites being so cluelessly dysfunctional, and with climate change possibly being apocalyptic, certainly very stressful, somebody is going to look at all the cool new “war winning”, “game changing” tools and use them on some of the greater powers, or perhaps some Sarajevo happens and the fun begins.

  28. JustAnObserver

    There’s the old design precept – Form follows function. From the PoV of combat aircraft we have

    A10: Perfect example.

    F35: Perfect counter-example.

    One interesting early design “decision” that may have [family blog]ed the entire project was to go single engine vs. all other 5th-gen which are twins with thrust vectoring. Since you’ll *always*, over time, want to carry a larger weapon load this choice, by itself, makes the aircraft already obsolete.

    1. AbateMagicThinking but Not Money

      If the F35 is a rabbit hole, and seemingly there are plenty of other military rabbit holes, are we in danger of all the holes joining up?

      Is the American military at all self-regarding (apart from medals that reach under the lapels), or do they just sub-contract that to the Rand Corporation? I really feel that I should know, as by default I live under their seemingly increasingly ricketty umbrella.

      I am cynically coming to believe that since the Vietnam war, all of the engagements with the ‘bad guys’ are just live exercises. And even the Vietnam war in its later stages, when the ideological battle was lost*, was a live exercise. It was after all an ideological war rather than an existential struggle (if you don’t count fighting for already lost prestige). Has the F35 engaged in any of the live exercises?


      * In reading ‘Lessons in Disaster, McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam’ by Gordon M. Goldstein, I learn that ‘Despite President Johnson’s identification with the domino theory, in June 1964 the CIA produced a major study sharply at variance with the theory’s core predictions’. 1964!

  29. D

    IT’s an interesting thing, history really only shows few planes that were shared successfully by all of the military, the last being the F-4 Phantom. But many politicians want to just get one plane for all because they hope it would be cheaper. Its not when the plane has to do contradictory things, like fly very fast, and extremely short take off. The technology to do that is still being worked out, and it will be expensive to do. as far as the plane will work out, if you look at history, we have had lots of planes that looked bad to start ( like the P-51 mustang, initially was a dog, but with a different engine, helped win WW-2) and that is just one example of many. Course one might wonder why we still fly planes that originated in 60s and 70s, with some from the 50s. Now maybe its the long time between designing/building planes that’s the problem, as you loose the know how to actually build them

    1. J7915

      Dassault of France seemed to retain their core design team. Boeing and I suspect Lockheed lay design staff of as the detail part of the wholes is completed. Essentially losing the hard earned institutional memory.

  30. The Prescription Was Clear

    Regarding Lambert’s question of the reason for the techno-disaster…

    It seems to me that one of the defining traits of neo-liberalism is elite decadence, the demant to enjoy and be left to their own devices and games. This translates to low ability to deal with unpleasant stimuly (let’s say critique) and poor discipline (needed for sustained action, completion and success), and finaly, strong drive towards fantasy-thinking.

    On one hand we have the rise of fiction and “science”-fiction, on the other, tha actual projects themselves (be they private or state, small or large) are becoming more and more based on fictitius asumptions, that don’t seem to be removed even after they demonstrably fail.

    Hence the conception of the F-35 and its continuation (this isn’t the first such abomination, it’s just the most extreme and it won’t go away, for previous, more moderate examples see the Space Shuttle, B-2, RAH-66, F-22, Seawolf, etc…)


    We are in the end-game of the liberal (i.e. hyper right wing) world order IMO, same as we were on the eve of WW1, whether it can end without large scale war is yet to be seen.

Comments are closed.