Airplanes as Sacred Cows

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As the discussion in Washington turns at least semi-serious about deficit and debt reduction, an interesting story about the Pentagon's F-35 story emerged this week. The program may have to be cut or curtailed if defense spending takes a hit, which it almost certainly will. This presents defense planners with what may turn out to be a historical dilemma. Are we at the point in human history where the manned fighter aircraft is on the downward arc of its zenith? The answer is probably yes, but even if it's not, you can see the end from here.

The F-35 is a big-dollar program ($382 billion) propelled by more lobbying money this year than most of us will make in a lifetime. Ignoring the politics, what about the flying part? Do the services need a state-of-the-art, radar-evading fighter to protect against…what threat? Or are drones coming along fast enough to take up the slack?

Just to put the F-35 program in chronological context, the F-16 has been in production for 32 years, the F-18 for 27; both are still mainstays in the U.S. inventory. Although they've been improved and upgraded, they're built on old foundations by aerospace standards. They'll have to be replaced eventually with something and that something might not have a guy (or woman) in it.

One of the F-35 stories I saw had a simple yes/no poll to cut it or keep it. I voted to keep it, but I was in the 30 percent minority. What I'd really like see is for the program to be scaled back, but that raises unit costs and makes the program less efficient than it already is.

It's easy to just click a choice and move on to the next page, but not so easy to make a decision whose consequences might not become obvious for a decade or longer. I really don't envy Bob Gates his job.

Neat airplane, though, even if it is late and over budget.

Comments (73)

You forgot to mention that this plane is being sold abroad - well to Canada anyway. A highly contentious purchase in that country where there is no clear
mission for this very expensive a/c and some doubt about its suitability for arctic operations.

Posted by: Robert Murray | December 2, 2010 6:48 AM    Report this comment

Although I'm an aviation enthusiast and it is always exciting to see the latest and greatest in US military aviation, this program needs to be axed! I actually see cancelling the program as a positive: it would serve as a wake-up call to Congress and the aerospace industry to stop wasting the taxpayer's money on programs that are riddled with cost-overruns and waste. These expensive programs are predicated more on lobbyist's and Congress' graft than what the military actually needs and wants. It's time for all of us, the military, the aerospace industry, and Congress to start living within our means.

Posted by: JOHN AUSTIN | December 2, 2010 6:55 AM    Report this comment

Try hitting a small ambush party behind a wall while flying an F18 or F16, and you will see the need for something flying slower and lower, with cannons or shoot and forget missiles, a robust diesel burning engine and lots of armor to protect from AK47 pothsots. Squadrons of those aircraft can be bought for one, F35. If this is going backwards, ask the people on the ground who see wonderful, loud, fast jets bomb hillsides at least three KM from the target before rushing home for another gin and tonic....

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | December 2, 2010 7:26 AM    Report this comment

At a half billion dollars a copy I say put it on the shelf for awhile. And.......let's get rid of third class medicals for GA planes under 6,000 lbs.!!

Posted by: Unknown | December 2, 2010 7:29 AM    Report this comment

Russia and China seem to believe in piloted fighters and attack aircraft. I doubt if drones and old fighters are any defense against waves of SU-37's and Mig 31's coming at our troops...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | December 2, 2010 7:39 AM    Report this comment

What threat will the F-35 counter? start with rouge nations going nuclear like North Korea and Iran. Throw in China and it's growing military capability and there is no doubt of the need for a manned air supremacy fighter in serious numbers.

Posted by: Tom Newman | December 2, 2010 7:44 AM    Report this comment

I will ignore all ideas for new works and engines of war, the invention of which has reached its limits and for whose improvement I see no further hope.

— Julius Frontinus, chief military engineer to the Emperor Vespasian, c. AD 70.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | December 2, 2010 8:04 AM    Report this comment

Paul What does the F-35 have over the F-22 ? From what little I have heard I thought the F-22 was better. If that is the case why not scale back or cut F-35 and ramp up F-22 instead of cutting it.
Would really like to know which attributes are best in each plane Thanks Scott

Posted by: SCOTT LAMMERS | December 2, 2010 8:14 AM    Report this comment

It seems to me that the F35 is a needed capability but the process is scandalous - were GM and Chrysler brought in as consultants from day one? The F35 is a great example of the stupidity that led to the GFC. Its just harder to kill off than a shoddy sedan.

I am about to see an F111 fly overhead for the last time tomorrow here in Brisbane and this F35 talk sounds a bit like what happened when the F111 was being developed. I wasn't around but I understand that it was a massive *&%# fight. Ridiculous cost blow outs, design issues with wing boxes that grounded the fleet, the whole lot. I've been wondering if the f35 might turn out the same way - a tough genesis but then a long, happy history?

Posted by: John Hogan | December 2, 2010 8:41 AM    Report this comment

I'm not an expert on the programs, but one selling point for the F-35 is that it's multi-service, while the F-22 is Air Force only. That's how it got wide congressional support.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 2, 2010 9:00 AM    Report this comment

The premise behind the F-35 is a good one...have a common basic airframe that is then modified to each services requirements. One version for the USAF, a carrier-capable version for the USN, and a STOVL version for the USMC. The problem with developing complex weapons like the F-35 (or F-22 for that matter) is that we almost have to be able to predict the future. Aircraft have to be viable for decades to have any chance for a decent return on investment. It looks right now like an advanced manned fighter isn't needed, since we're not getting in dogfights with the Taliban. But how do we know what the world will be like in say, 2030? Do we slash manned fighter development in the hopes that we're not going to have to tangle with a more traditional enemy like China or Russia?

Posted by: Chris McLellan | December 2, 2010 9:26 AM    Report this comment

Paul, you are a genius at getting people to think with provacitive topics. As a former Marine tactical jet aviator, I must admit that my views are clouded by my past (VN vet), but they are rooted in real world experience, not hypothetical what'ifs and maybes. Drones and attack helocopters are marvelous tools in the proper arena, but lack flexibility or a dynamic response capability. It is easy to watch the 6PM news and become an arms expert, but Afganistan and Iraq are poor examples of what may be needed in the next 10 - 20 years. If you think China is content to lace baby formula & wage economic money value manipulation you haven't been paying attention to the Iran/N Korea nuclear development(and where do you think Pakistan got it's nukes?. There WILL be a day of reckoning, and it started with Pakistan, then N. Korea/Iran,& will then spread to an attack on Taiwan/Formosa. If any doubt this, read NUCLEAR EXPRESS, just published last year and try and sell the concept China is a benign trading partner. Is the F35 the answer? Only time will tell, but think of it as insurance: How many have life, car, home or airplane insurance? Expensive, but much better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 2, 2010 9:41 AM    Report this comment

While the vastly expensive F-35 & F-22 may truly be the "last gasps" of the manned fighter, I have to agree with Jerry Plante, Chris McLellan & others. Until it actually arrives we simply can't know with any degree of certanty what the future will require, at which time a bad past decision can cost huge numbers of lives. Keeping all options viable may be expensive but it is the prudent way to go.

Posted by: John Wilson | December 2, 2010 9:42 AM    Report this comment

War is what Wilbur Wright thought the airplane would be best for, and he was one smart guy. Saying that, these days shoulder-fired missles are getting smarter and more capable so your gazillion dollar warbirds can be shot down cheaply from the ground. If I were a Taliban, I'd be working on jamming radio communication between the drones and their controllers, but hey, they probably already thought of that. Killing people is not the highest use of the ability to fly. I used to fly air tankers to wildfires. That was life saving stuff from the sky.

Posted by: Jack Romanski | December 2, 2010 10:05 AM    Report this comment

The reality is that until the arrival of the F-35 the USAF is not getting any more new fighters after the last F-22 is built. The F-16 is still in production, but only for foreign countries. The current inventory of F-15 and F16s is about 30 years old. Super Hornets are considerably more advanced than first generation F-18s and the Navy is still getting new ones. With the aforementioned volatile nations rattling sabers and shelling our allies, air superiority cannot be overlooked. That said, these programs are getting REALLY expensive. The Lockheed-Bell-Augusta-Westland contract for the new presidential helicopter was canned because one unit was to cost more than one VC-25 (Air Force 1 747-200). I just can't see the reasoning in that. Yes, the budget needs to be cut. Defense projects should not be first in line to be cut, but things must be done to bring the costs down.

Posted by: Ryan Lunde | December 2, 2010 10:09 AM    Report this comment

In 1958 then Prime Minister John Deifenbaker said "the day of the manned fighter was over" and cancelled the Avro Arrow, the most advanced fighter in the world at the time. Canada ended up with the totally useless Bomarc missles for air defence and lost all ability to design and produce military aircraft.

Posted by: Robert Chambers | December 2, 2010 10:17 AM    Report this comment

We do NOT have a drone that is in any way suited to the air superiority mission, nor is such a drone on the horizon.

A lot of the posters here seem to take it for granted that U.S. forces will never be attacked from the air. I can see why they would think so, since (aside from one AN-2 attack on a radar station in Laos) there has not been an air attack on U.S. ground forces since early in the Korean war.

Still, it is NOT a law of nature that the United States will always own the skies.

If the U.S. stands down the F-35 then there is that much incentive for Russia, China, India and Europe to accelerate development of the advanced manned fighters they are already working on.

There is also the fact that The U.K., Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark have also make substantial investments in F-35 development. Israel has announced they plan to buy as many of F-35s as they can afford.

Does anyone think that stabbing in the back nine of our closest friends is a good idea?

Does anyone think these countries are all fools who are throwing away their money to support the American defense establishment?

Canceling the F-35 at this late date would be insane.

Posted by: Jim Howard | December 2, 2010 11:00 AM    Report this comment

Good point can see that thinking over and over. The UK made the same mistake as Canada back then too. In the 1950s everyone thought the H-bomb was going to make amphibious forces obsolete...and now popular wisdom is that UAVs are replacing manned aircraft. Maybe they are...for some missions. But air superiority isn't one of them IMHO. The problem now is that government expenditures are so out of control that even conservatives are starting to question defense spending levels. To me two things need to happen...we need to make some serious decisions about what kind of military we need (power projection vs. continental defense), and we also need to find a way to reduce the waste and abuse you see in DoD programs. I wonder how much of the cost overruns are due to plain old waste.

Posted by: Chris McLellan | December 2, 2010 11:02 AM    Report this comment

It seems to me that you've already forgotten that the F-22 production was axed as were many other programs because the F-35 was going to answer everybody's needs--just a few years farther down the road.

I don't know about you but I like the idea of my children and grandchildren going to combat in aircraft that are clearly superior to anything they might face. War isn't a game of horse shoes and close isn't good enough.

U.S. troops haven't been attacked from the air since the Korean War. That isn't an accident it's because we built and maintained aerospace strength that no one else could seriously challenge.

What's going on in Afghanistan is serious business but not the kind that threatens our survival. F-22s and F-35s are the kind of aircraft needed to deal with those survival situations...and if you don't have them when the shooting starts, it's too late.

Posted by: Rocky Capozzi | December 2, 2010 12:03 PM    Report this comment

NONE of the military pilots I've talked to want this airplane.

For the Air Force--the F-35 is far slower than the F-22--it also CLIMBS much slower. It's clearly NOT an air superiority fighter. It's also interesting that only 2 weeks after the current Administration axed the F-22, the Russians came out with their own version of their competitor!

The NAVY doesn't want it--it is inferior in performance to the F-18--since all Navy air-refueled-capable aircraft also have a "give-away" capability--the F-35 has a "giveaway" capability of only 2.5--(is able to refuel 2 1/2 other jets) compared to 7 for the old Intruder. It has a "giveaway" capability of ZERO if operated in a VTOL mode. It has only one engine--all Navy strike aircraft since the old Skyhawk have been twins--a good capability over water.

The MARINES don't like it because of its single engine--making it more vulnerable to ground fire in the close air support role.

The Holy Grail of every Secretary of Defense is to have ONE airplane that does everything well. That didn't work out well for McNamara and the F-111, did it? If it doesn't do AIR SUPERIORITY, CLOSE AIR SUPPORT, and NAVAL OPERATIONS--what IS its mission?

Posted by: jim hanson | December 2, 2010 12:52 PM    Report this comment

I agree with Rocky. There is a continual need for capable aircraft to defend our troops and our country. F-22 and F-35 aircraft are needed. You should not expect that China and Russia are not going to develop advanced fighters to rule the skies over the U.S. The United States must be prepared. History does repeat itself.

Posted by: Dennis White | December 2, 2010 1:02 PM    Report this comment

Maverick, I hardly knew ye. The handwriting is on the wall. Building a half billion dollar airplane to strike a mud hut. Great air battles in the sky between scarf wearing fearless pilots. Read about it in the history books. Great technology exercises such as the F-22/F-35 are wonderful air show airplanes. Show the tax payers all that smoke and noise and they will feel good about themselves. Meanwhile, Russia, is producing thousands of good, tough, high performance combat airplanes and in sufficient amounts to sustain the inevitable combat and operational losses. More is always better. And more is better. Did I say more is better. We have become slaves to whiz bang technology. Has anyone looked at the mission capability rate of the V-22 lately? What is the US primary strategic bomber? The B-52! Looking to the past to try and predict the future as far as war fighting goes is a futile exercise. 9/11 showed that.. If we knew about it, an F-35 was not going to help counter it. Gold plated combat systems are eyewash and excuses for politicians to show the masses that they are protecting us.

Posted by: jan burden | December 2, 2010 1:22 PM    Report this comment

Much of the cost of modern aircraft (and all arms, for that matter) comes from the practice of producing only a few a year to "Keep the production line open" as a sop to Congressional pork.

Airplanes were comparably cheap from the Century Series fighters through the Phantom--but in those days, we bought a whole bunch of fighters--then closed the line. Efficient production. The B-52's were produced over a short span--the line closed--but Boeing still supports them. Boeing also produced 1000 KC-135 tankers--again--build a bunch--close the line. Trainers--the T-38 was built from 1960-1968--they are still serving--and will remain serving until 2040. Northrop built about 1000 of them.

Is it any WONDER that airplanes (or ships, or tanks) cost as much as they do when entire factories and their attendant workforces must stay open for years just so a Congresscritter can brag about bringing more pork to the District?

Posted by: jim hanson | December 2, 2010 2:00 PM    Report this comment

over 4,500 F-16's were built of all versions. The F-15 line produced about 1300 aircraft. The F-22 line will only produce 187 aircraft. Is there something wrong here?

The F-35 line is supposed to produce about 2,400 aircraft. That number will probably be reduced as well. Just under 1,200 F-15's were built.

The concept of getting three viable versions of the same basic airframe sounds really good in Congress, but not so good in the battlespace.

Why use one manufacturer to build all the combat aircraft? The Aerospace Industry and the taxpayer might be better off if three purpose built aircraft were manufactured by three different manufacturers.

That might even foster competition and generate a larger knowledge base.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | December 2, 2010 2:06 PM    Report this comment

Thomas Olsen--good point! Instead of waiting for the long-promised F-35, the Navy banked on the Super Hornet. Instead of waiting for an airplane still in the "promissory" stage, the Navy has the airplane they need--and HAS been operating the airplane very successfully for years!

The original Hornet was born of the unsuccessful competitor for the lightweight fighter, the F-17. The production nod went to the F-16 instead--but the Hornet became a world-class airplane in its own right. Uncle Sam paid for the technology that went into ALL of the competitors, why NOT use that acquired knowledge somewhere else?

Posted by: jim hanson | December 2, 2010 2:26 PM    Report this comment

I remember the 1 Billion dollar a piece B-2 that really has nothing much than a "Wow" factor, being threatened, but they are here. That makes the others start to look like bargains, 20-30 or 50 years later as in the B-52. Although the F-117 enjoyed a short career, it was a good one. Like we "don't need no stinken guns" of F-4 Phantom fame, "we don't need no stinken pilots" of current all knowing decision makers will also prove folly. One well placed jammer and flying robots litter the battlefield... Hard to drive remotely with no physical contact with the controls and being a thousands of miles away, may be a good idea. Because as the gee-whiz boys are trying to sort it out where are their extensions over the battlefield, the jam-resistant Piper Cub with a couple hand gernades will rule...

Posted by: Chuck West | December 2, 2010 2:34 PM    Report this comment

I've said, since the F-35 was announced that it was a stupid idea. Might be a cool plane on certain levels, but the government has tried several times to build a do-it-all combat plane and it has NEVER worked well. Kind of like socialism.

It will ALWAYS be better to have 3 different aircraft dedicated to 3 different roles (though perhaps with some capability to cross-perform in a pinch) as each of those planes will excel in their particular duty. Making 1 plane that can do the 3 different jobs requires too many compromises. A fighter needs to be light so as to be fast and agile. A bomber needs heft to handle the heavy loads. A ground attack/close air support plane needs to be tough and maneuverable in slow flight. A plane that will do it all won't be light enough for the fighter role, hefty enough for the bomber role, or tough/slow speed maneuverable enough for the CAS role. Which leaves you with the F-35. OK in all of those, but great in none.

Best would be to scrap the F-35, and update/redesign/come up with something new to replace the A-10 for CAS, the F-16/F-18/F-22 for the fighters, the A-6/F-117 for the bomber role, and the F-14/F-15/F-18 for the long range interceptor/light bomber role. Incorporate whatever stealth features, and advanced technology you need/want in the process.

That'll ultimately bring even more jobs to congressional districts, make the .mil happy, and give all of us something to drool over.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | December 2, 2010 2:42 PM    Report this comment

The B-2 fiasco is yet another example of the wasteful practice of "limited production runs."

Critics have made much of the "Billion dollars apiece" B-2s--but the reality is that the cost to produce one is not much more than a 747 or A-380. The "Sunken costs" of the R&D, tooling, and the factory to build them in was horrendous--stopping production after only 21 was foolish.

Originally, the B-2 was to be deployed in the U.S.--Europe, and the Pacific. That would require hangars, simulators, and maintenance and support units at each base. With only 21 aircraft, it made no sense to forward-deploy the aircraft overseas with only a few at each base, so they were consolodated at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. When needed in Iraq (or anywhere else in the world) they would have to fly NONSTOP missions from Missouri to the target and back--missions up to 44 hours long. That would be hard enough to do in a comparatively roomy B-52--but the B-2 carries only a 2-man crew--no relief pilot--no room to stretch out and sleep. B-2 crews literally carry a Wal-mart collapsible chaise loung lawn chair to lay out over the aircraft hatch so one pilot can sleep on the mission!

Though the aircraft was never designed for such missions, it is a good example of the adaptability of manned aircraf--to innovate and accomplish missions. The B-2 will never be a tonnage leader like the B-52--but when you NEED one, you REALLY NEED one!

Posted by: jim hanson | December 2, 2010 2:53 PM    Report this comment

1. Does the ballyhoo'd stealth capability of the F-35 add to mission effectiveness of the USMC variant? For example, does it work against manpads? (If not, what use is stealth in ground support?) Does stealth--as with the F-22--work only when F-35 is "clean" of underwing racks/stores? (if so, the Marine version lacks effective ordnance loads, compared to a/c it's replacing. Unless stealth works in those situations, it's a burden to the budget and ultimately to the mission. If the USMC F-35 is NOT interchangeable with the Navy variant, it ain’t capable of interchangeable mission planning as formerly with VF and VMF squadrons. Needed: a carrier-capable A-10.

2, One sunk cost overlooked on the B-2 project was Cold War security: 100s of skilled, high-cost workers were hired on ability long before they were cleared to work on the a/c. So they sat around Northrup with little to do but stay on the payroll and wait for clearance. Not their fault, but our paranoia.

3.Dumb for 2 B-2 drivers to transit Whitman to Diego Garcia for turnaround, yes. But the plane was designed for WWIII! Our crystal ball, as others have noted, is clouded by future uncertainty and human frailty (especially in greed, pork and politics).

Posted by: Wash Phillips | December 2, 2010 3:52 PM    Report this comment

We must maintain air superiority. If there is a cheaper way I would like to hear about it. All fighter programs have been expensive and had lots and lots of cost overruns. You have to tell lies to the politicians and paint a glossy power point picture to get the program started. Then slowly let the reality set in once beyond the point of no return. Same drill different airplane.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | December 2, 2010 6:51 PM    Report this comment

There has been a lot of mis-directed criticism of this particular aircraft or that, which causes me to think there are a lot of really smart well informed people out there. Wonder if any of these "critics" have really studied the F22/F35 vs. the aircraft they are designed to replace? First, the three F35 service variants are very different in design focus and mission capabilities. Second, the F111 is a very unenlightened model for comparison since the 3 variants are so service specific. Third, comparing a tactical fighter and it's attendant hi G environment is very much different than bombers and tankers, so flying old fighters is impossible. Anybody remember the A6 wing spar issues as the aircraft aged, and even the stout tuff A4 had fatigue issues at the end of it's service life. As good as the F18 is, they're being pulled from service around 7000 hours and a lot of them are there. If one is going to denigrate the current aircraft procurement process, have a plan B which makes more economic, strategic and tactical sense. Please don't just say if we ignore the threat, it won't happen. Sure didn't happen in that happy naive period prior to WW!! did it?

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 2, 2010 8:30 PM    Report this comment

Do we judge what type of defense weapons we need by what was needed in WWII 65 years ago? Does the US need to be the world's police force with just 4.5% of the worlds population? In how many foreign countries does the US maintain bases? Is China a threat to our security when they sell us somewhere around 300 billion dollars of goods each year? Is new Russia really interested in a conflict with the US? If we would have a war with Iran that has about a fourth of the US population will fighter jets really matter? Since WWII have we fought our wars with less than our military might? Do we really need F35's with the type of fighting we are doing today? Can we afford to continue to police the world? If we stepped back a little would some of our friends step up. Can the US continue to spend the money we are spending because every program is someone's sacred cow.

Posted by: Unknown | December 2, 2010 10:07 PM    Report this comment

We have the best air superiority fighter in the world with the F-22--the F-35 won't improve on that. The F-35 doesn't even have the speed and climb of the old Phantom--much less a modern fighter.

It's hard to see how the F-35 will be better than the F-18 for naval use--the F-18 outclimbs it, it's faster, it has two engines--and it can give away more fuel as a tanker than the navalized F-35. Just what is this airplane going to do for the fleet?

The VTOL F-35 may or may not be better than the Harrier II it replaces--we'll have to wait and see the results of flight tests.

As a Marine "Mud Mover" for close air support--Wash Phillips had it exactly right--what is needed is a "Carrier Qualified A-10"--not literally--but the point is that a specific airplane is needed for that specialized mission. The single-engine F-35 doesn't make it--any more than the A-4 Skyhawk (the last single-engine ground attack aircraft) that John McCain lost in a similar mission.

One size does NOT fill all missions. Example: the A-10 may be the best ground support aircraft around, but it will never be an air superiority fighter. Better to have a competition for specific missions--buy the airplanes you need--and close the production line instead of dribbling them out a few at a time.

Posted by: jim hanson | December 3, 2010 12:24 PM    Report this comment

A lot of people have forgotten an aircraft that delivered the most tonnage in the Iraq/Afgan conflict---called The Bone---i.e. the B-1. To bring an A-10 type aircraft into any battle is just wanting to throw pilots away. There are just to many shoulder mounted missiles that are so dang effective and available just darn anywhere. The F-35 is so far away from being fielded that to not take into the play those missiles is fool hardy. What should be looked into is advancements in the proven Queen of the battlefield----Artillery. Look what is being brought into the battle in Afgan---the M-1. And not for any tank battles but for it's main gun. In the tactical battle artillery can be brought into play far quicker and more accurate than any drone or manned aircraft. Aircraft were historically just extensions of artillery in the tactical battlefield, nothing more than a long range gun. The only place they were not was strictly in the strategic battlefield. With the improvements in rapid fire artillery and pinpoint accuracy the need for tactical aircraft is just not there.

Posted by: Stephen White | December 3, 2010 4:21 PM    Report this comment

With the improvements in rapid fire artillery and pinpoint accuracy the need for tactical aircraft is just not there.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 3, 2010 4:53 PM    Report this comment

I am astounded at the amount of anti-tactical aviation verbiage presented. I'll refer to the Marine variant since that's the mission I'm most familiar with. Marine Air's SOLE responsibility to support Marine Infantry!! Carrier quals were fun, but our job wasn't floating around on ships flying VA/VF missions. Fun, but not what we were hired for. So the MC's F35 not being compatible with the carrier Navy is a red herring. At this point the MC isn't planning to buy the F18E/F, so their C/D models are getting old. If you put that together, the F35 will replace the Harrier & F18. And in case anyone hasn't noticed, the F22 line is done because it was so expensive. So arm chair tacticians, if the F35 is cx'd, the US will have approximately 150 modern front line fighters in 10 years. But we will have really good health care and entitlement programs. Can't wait for that to happen.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 3, 2010 11:45 PM    Report this comment

Burns, which aircraft did you fly in VN?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 4, 2010 5:16 AM    Report this comment

Burns--do you think that the F-35 is the best aircraft that can be designed for the MC close air support mission? Wouldn't you rather have an airplane that was actually DESIGNED for the mission?

The Air Force folks seem to feel the same way--the airplane wasn't designed as an air superiority fighter--it is "easy meat" for any purpose-designed fighter.

The Navy isn't thrilled with it either--for reasons already discussed.

The point is--this airplane is inferior to any purpose-designed aircraft--and the Washington Whiz Kids are sending our pilots out in an airplane that has been inferior to purpose-built aircraft since the day it first flew.

I'm surprised that the Washington crowd didn't try to put a rotor on it and sell it to the Army or Coast Guard!

Posted by: jim hanson | December 4, 2010 1:08 PM    Report this comment

Asking me about "mission specific" is actually a giant leap backwards. Remember all the Air Force mission specific Century series fighters? Do the 102/106, and the 104 and 105 ring any bells?. Absolutely perfect one mission airplanes. Then do you remember the Air Force furor when they had to buy the F4. Why, because the Phantom could do a whole lot of stuff. Not especially good at any one thing, except as you mentioned going fast in a straight line. Carried a pretty good bomb load, lot of missiles I spent a carrier in the A4 which really could do about anything. In the Mike and Super Fox versions we had great thrust to weight, great turning fighter, carried about anything including nukes and was very reliable. I would submit that it's the tactics and implementation that make a great airplane. Doctrine determines your needs, and we as a country have to be able to project naval force ashore. Don't know if you noticed, but much of the action in Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom were night ops. Negates manpads and stealth negates the radar. These versatile designs don't happen by happenstance and the F35 appears to fill a lot of gaps.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 4, 2010 11:58 PM    Report this comment

Late at night, but I meant I spent a career in the A4. In the late 70's we deployed to Cold Lake Canada for a Maple Flag/Red Flag exercise, and McDonnell/Douglas and Northrop were there trying to sell their fighters to the Canadians. The consensus was the the A4 was the best day VFR fighter because it was so versatile but it was getting old and loosing capability to advancing threat and they bought the F18. Same things happening today with the current fighters. I did get to go thru the F35factory in Fort Worth and see the company "spiel" and it doesn't take a back seat to anything flying or on the board Hopefully we'll never know how good the F22 & F35 are, but we can all be very sure they're the best we can produce.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 5, 2010 12:15 AM    Report this comment

WHAT is the sense of developing and deploying weapons that will never see the battlefield? Is it acurate enough to say that 90% of weapons are constructed only to suit the "what-if" scenarios of war gamers? Is it fair enough to say that the apocolyptic capabilities of new weapons systems will never be fully investigated or battlefield-tested due to political constraints coming from the home front?

Think Osama Bin Laden, and the Afghan war.

I can't think of one significant weapon system that was a significant factor in winning a war — that was developed before hostilities began (well, maybe the Supermarine Spitfire, and it's racing heritage was an exception). But the most glaring example of wartime development was the nuclear weapon.

My point is that unless the general population is behind such costly endeavors—such systems like the F-35—we Americans will end up with a stripped-down, poor performing boondoggle at best, and a drag on our economic recovery at worst.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | December 5, 2010 6:08 AM    Report this comment

I can't think of one significant weapon system that was a significant factor in winning a war

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 5, 2010 7:41 AM    Report this comment

In these tough economic times maybe we need to scrap the F-35 and go with the XM25 Counter Defilade Target System at $35,000 a copy instead.

Posted by: Unknown | December 5, 2010 8:08 AM    Report this comment

XM25 Counter Defilade Target System

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 5, 2010 8:22 AM    Report this comment

Phil, you've convinced me. I'm canceling my house, car, long term health care and airplane insurance. I'll probably never need them, hopefully/maybe, so why pay for that stuff? Our cherished Constitution require that the government provide for the national defense, not some of the entitlement/health care disasters we've been burdened with. It's amazing that when our defense industry does develop an airplane that is multi-faceted and can be used in many different environments someone opines that it does too much. And if anyone thinks China doesn't have expansionist/world dominance aspirations, I think you've not been watching events in Asia the last 20 years. Front line fighters aren't being designed for a permissive air environment. Attack helicopters and A10's are for those scenarios where there isn't a threat from radar guided weapons, but for the initial engagement where we are trying to neutralize their air defenses, you better have some very well designed stealth technology. But maybe you're right, a strongly worded diplomatic cable to the Chinese will force them to stop supporting international nuclear terrorism, because that's what they're doing with N Korea and have done with Pakistan. Why do you think we're in Afghanistan/Pakistan right now? Think it could over control of their nukes?

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 5, 2010 9:16 AM    Report this comment

The nukes ARE a big reason that we are in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Posted by: Dennis White | December 5, 2010 2:46 PM    Report this comment

Manpads = IR seekers. Night ops = no natural airborne heat sources. So how exactly do night ops in Iraq and A-stan prove night negates manpads? Not unless the shooters are asleep, perhaps. Sound carries.
As for stealth negating radar, let's recall what an old-style Soviet set did to one F-117 in Bosnia--state-of-the-art at the time. Stealth is great, but it's proven to be conceptually a continuously "moving target" involving apt current tactics, current ECM, and stand-off strikes to neutralize the threat for the rest of the attacking package that ain't quite so stealthy.

Posted by: Wash Phillips | December 8, 2010 12:31 AM    Report this comment

OK, Paul, you win: I forgot to mention the sword. And while we're at it, let's include the pitchfork.

But back to the subject. My posit is that I think that as a Nation that is spending ourselves into oblivion, we're overlooking the small things. Take for example, Pfc. Bradley Manning who—by all accounts—has done more damage to the U.S. than any advanced weapons system has done. The best weapons are nullified by traitors and the poorly trained. I submit the "wikileaks" situation only as encouragement for us all to impart a little "self-checking" into this clarion call for ever more advanced (and expensive) swords, chariots, catapults, or whatever.

In short, advocates of mega-weapons would do this country a great deal of good if they were to read — and read again — Sun Tzu prior to spending our dollars. This is not prescience — this is common sense.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | December 8, 2010 3:06 AM    Report this comment

Speaking of downward arcs, maybe the days of the U.S. being the worlds' policeman is on a downward arc as well. That is where all of this stuff is used. Apart from missals we are far from our enemies. The old stuff is still working pretty well, it seems. And, at this point, who do we NEED to beat? Necessity is the mother of invention. No need, no new manned aircraft.

Posted by: Martin Rey | December 8, 2010 6:18 AM    Report this comment

Remember the "Whiz Kids"? They had all the statistical evidence to prove that you fired X number of bullets to kill a troop, so if the enemy had Y number of troops all you had to do to win a battle was fire X * Y bullets. That sure worked out well in practice. How much of the F35 is the result of that brand of logic?

Posted by: RICHARD GIRARD | December 8, 2010 6:47 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Derosier suggests re-reading Sun Tzu. Reading for a first time Col. ohn "40-second" Boyd is a Step #2.

Posted by: Wash Phillips | December 8, 2010 11:12 AM    Report this comment

The F-35 is suppose to cost 30% less than the F-22 per unit and be used in more areas increasing the savings. I don't know if these numbers have held up in the real world as I haven't followed the program in the last couple of years. Drones have a role but they also remove the liability. There was a stargate episode where they visit a planet that is locked in a extended war where the "humans" live under ground flying drones in a never ending war. Once your reach a point where there isn't any cost of life then either we have to figure a new way to settle differences or end up in a never ending war.

Posted by: Joseph Chambers | December 8, 2010 11:29 AM    Report this comment

This is fascinating discourse. It's been over 20 years since I was involved in tactical aviation, but as a WTI (Weapons Tactics Instructor) I spent much of my time and energy analyzing and planning the tactics involved in SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) against various high threat scenarios. But even with that background I am as ill prepared to discuss current tactics/methodologies as I am the best current thoracic surgery techniques and equipment. If the current group of strategic and tactical planners say this is the best that we can field today, we as the uninformed only embarrass the collective GA community with foolish, naive opinions.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 8, 2010 3:51 PM    Report this comment

J. R. Dunn wrote an excellent article and I hope that his facts and conclusions are accurate, but I'm not sure how this relates to the efficacy of the F35 in particular as a necessary part of our force structure. I can see how someone may draw the conclusion that manned defenses in general are no longer necessary in view of the cyber warfare being waged, which does support Paul’s original question of whether advanced fighters are a "sacred cow". For those that may not have read John Boyd's biography, his premise was that big expensive weapons systems, the F15 in particular, are much less effective in the defense force structure that smaller, lighter much much more numerous and less expensive systems, in point of reference the F16. However our Congress has long established (since at least the Truman administration) that we as a country would field fewer but more capable aircraft. If you doubt this, compare the MIG 15 thru 21 to contemporary US fighters in complexity, capabilities and numbers built. 30 some odd years ago this issue was dealt with at AIMEVAL/ACEEVAL. But we still don't know the absolute answer since, partly because of our perceived tactical advantages; we still don't know which all in all is a pretty good place to be. I like this better than being tested and found wanting.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 9, 2010 9:38 AM    Report this comment

The exorbitant cost of modern military equipment astounds me, especially when weighed against the actual threats this country faces. Where is the balance? I read recently that the military budget for the USA (not counting current Iraq, Afghanistan spending) is twice - wait for it - twice the value of the military budgets of the rest of the world COMBINED! Are we that afraid of Canadians and Mexicans? Bring back basic $5 million dollar fighters, put decent guns and missiles on them and they will get 99% of the real world jobs done without effort. These multi-billion dollar pricetags for over-the-top equipment benefits only one group of people and it isn't your average US citizen.

Posted by: PETER THOMAS | December 9, 2010 12:34 PM    Report this comment

Being inextricably bound to a technology, or a series of similar technologies, is not defense: it is "thinking inside the box". This statement is not intended to offend experts of existing or available technologies, but simply as reminder that nothing is forever. There is no question that the U.S. Military has precisely this in mind, when they signal the intend to begin 'sunseting' manned aircraft in the upcoming decade.

Advanced fighters are called "sacred cows" only because they memorialize past victories. A squadron of F35s would not stop a cyber-attack.

Our enemies have largely abandoned any notion of going head-to-head against U.S. military forces because an industrial base to produce such advance weapons is largely nonexistent, so they are being quite inventive at developing alternatives.

I am no military 'expert', but it is clear to me that our enemies have decentralized their forces and have scattered like so-many insects in a room when a light is turned on. So, what will you do? Blow up the room? Burn down the house? At what point will that F35 become a symbol of despotism? Just because you can, does not mean you should.

We're overlooking the small things, my friends.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | December 9, 2010 1:26 PM    Report this comment

We're overlooking the small things, my friends.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 9, 2010 2:27 PM    Report this comment

Ahh yes, the M1 and the first Gulf War! Those sat-photos showing our boys chasing down Saddam's boys ... And what was the greatest obstacle to that fine piece of equipment?

... Gen. Colin Powell ... a political entity that prevented Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf from finishing Saddam (and his mistresses) off in quick succession.

You've reminded me of the eerie (political) parallels between the F-35 and the M-1 ...

Posted by: Phil Derosier | December 9, 2010 2:54 PM    Report this comment

"A squadron of F35s would not stop a cyber-attack."

That is most certainly true.

But a hord of geeks sitting at the Linux boxes also won't stop a Chinese/NORK/etc squadron of bombers. Nor will they stop an incoming ICBM. And both of those are real, if not currently as present a set of dangers as cyber-attacks or terrorist bombings.

What's needed are defense systems to counter each of those threats and all the others. We need the hords of geeks just as much as the squadrons of advanced aircraft.

As I've said before, I like the idea of us maintaining air superiority. But I also don't think the F-35 is best plane for the job. I'd rather see 3 or 4 different planes that specialize in the 3 or 4 distinct roles the F-35 is being asked to fill.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | December 9, 2010 6:32 PM    Report this comment

Phil, I suspect that your discontent is not with the F35, or even the M1, but rather the role of the US on the world stage. That being the case, this discourse has nothing to do with a specific weapon system, but rather the maintaining of our position as a world leader and defender of the basic human spirit. I suspect that this will ultimately be the discussion that most determines our future. Paul, you asked what I flew in the Marine Corps, and i don't know if I answered: I had the very good fortune to spend almost 20 years in the A4 Skyhawk.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 9, 2010 9:15 PM    Report this comment

Now Mr. Moore, that is classic "red herring", and other types of fallacious argument or rhetorical trickery ('appeal to authority') to establish your position or make your point. Are you *sure* I am "discontented" to the extent I have no taste or desire for U.S. leadership? Or am I merely expressing disapproval (with 'business as usual'), and offering a countervailing argument?

Posted by: Phil Derosier | December 10, 2010 12:40 AM    Report this comment

As a reader of the "Boyd" biography, the concept of a one machine does it all mentality has already produced many inferior designs. This perpetuates the need for the Pentagon to then later say how the "current design" is now obsolete (this is the essence of the military-industrial complex). In other words...when the F35 is suddenly deficient in a needed role (because of inherent design compromises), they can then argue for "this or that mission-specific air platform". It is like a car salesman going back and forth between the tactic of trade-in value, and then sticker price. The tax-payer needs to walk off the lot!

Posted by: eric hanson | December 10, 2010 3:13 AM    Report this comment

the concept of a one machine does it all mentality has already produced many inferior designs.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 10, 2010 5:21 AM    Report this comment

It has become apparent that a significant part of this discussion revolves around a lack of understanding of the F35. While I am not the best "spokesperson", I'll try and fill in some blanks. The comment over the issue of mission specific designs keeps reappearing. As was demonstrated when I toured the Fort Worth factory in May, the F35 is THREE different airplanes: The size, weight, wing area, and performance goals are all different, yet the three airplanes design/development costs were combined. But I think the attacks over the design philosophy of the F35 is the real red herring. The issue is really over the US role in future political and diplomatic crises. With the advent of the modern US Attack Carrier, our Naval Task forces and their attendant fighter/attack aircraft have been offensive, hence multi-role, and very capable. Remember the Air Force being forced to accept TWO Navy aircraft, the F4 and A7, (bitterly accepted by the Air Force of that time) because they were more capable, i.e. more bang for the buck. As is said in the legal profession this question has been asked and answered many times in the past.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 10, 2010 9:16 AM    Report this comment

Burns, you could write an essay on this, I'm sure, but if memory serves, the A-4, the F-4, the F-8, the A-7 and A-1E were all contemporaneous carrier aircraft during Vietnam. What was the pilot community view of that mix? Good? Bad? Indifferent?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 10, 2010 12:19 PM    Report this comment

Paul that's an interesting question. Several things occurred in the 1960's that put some unusual stresses on Naval Aviation. In the '50s, carriers were primarily the small deck post WWII Essex class, Hancock, Bonhomie Richard (Bonnie Dick), Oriskany etc which carried the A4, F8 & A1. Along with the new bigger decks being developed (Forrestal class & larger) came the larger & heavier F4, and A5 & A6. The Navy determined that the A4E & prior didn't have the payload or loiter time desired in VN & went to LTV (successor to Chance Vaught) and had them develop the A7 to correct that perceived shortcoming. At about the same time the Marine Corps started moving toward the F4 and away from the F8 because of the F4's greater versatility and the F8's inability to carry much air to ground tonnage. The A7 was much tougher to support deployed in small numbers and didn't do well on shorter expeditionary airfields as compared to the A4. When the Marine Corps decided the A7 wouldn't work, the A4M was ordered with much updated avionics/weapons delivery capability along with a 1/3 more thrust. From the late 60's till the end of airwar, the Navy had the small decks with A4&F8 and large decks with F4/A6&A7.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 10, 2010 9:18 PM    Report this comment

As I said in an earlier post, tactics make the aircraft work or fail, and after the advent of Top Gun, the F4 got awfully good, due to tremendous total thrust and creative tactics. I think, with the possible exception of the A7, we all fell in love with the airplane we flew. The A4 has especially strong support from the guys that flew it. As to the A1, I don't think the Navy liked having two fuels on board (especially highly volatile 115/145 AvGas) so they wanted the A1 gone as soon as they didn't need the lift, but they did do one awesome job. After I came home from VN, I got to spend 3 years in a Navy Advanced Jet training squadron and the instructors came from all the various communities, (Navy, Marine & even Coast Guard) and there were some interesting personality profiles, especially the F4/F8 and Spad guys. That would take a book. The F8 was a bitch at the boat due to very high approach speeds and critical hook to ramp clearance but was a better "point and pull" fighter but the F4 had more tricks and better radar, but lacked the F8's gun. Did I get close to what you were asking? Keep the faith, friend.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 10, 2010 9:19 PM    Report this comment

The reason I asked that question is that the F-4 experience informs the F-35 debate. As I recall, the F-4 was designed to be a beyond-visual-range cold war intercept with ground strike capability. No gun. And if they designers envisioned something like Vietnam, they didn't say so.

So as you say, after Top Gun and other modifications to strategy and tactics, the F-4 got really good. But it sure didn't start out that way. And that's the fallacy of judging the F-35 ahead of the fact. At some point, you have to make a decision on these programs knowing full well that the world they'll fight in will be different than that originally conceived.

I don't like the high-dollar programs anymore than anyone else. I'm just not seeing the ready alternative. At least the F-35 has, from the outset, more basic platform variability than the F-4 did. Didn't the Air Force just dig its heels in against the F-4, a Navy project originally?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 11, 2010 9:53 AM    Report this comment

Debating the costs/functionality of the F-35 program is just diversion. There are other obvious matters that first need to be fixed...problems not related to aviation per se. Fix them first -and then monies for the F-22, F-35,(even more) and their eventual follow-on machinery will be readily available.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | December 11, 2010 8:41 PM    Report this comment

Paul you are correct, the F4 was designed as a fleet defense interceptor to engage enemy air attacks well beyond the point they could threaten the fleet. It was far superior to it's contemporary Air Force Century series fighters and Rob't McNamara (LBJ's Sec of Def) forced the Air Force to take the F4. They were in the process of loosing over 600 of the almost 1000 F105s (read Thud Ridge & Going Downtown). A lesson that seems to require continual relearning is that our enemy will attack weakness, and looking ahead 20 years, we will have a weakness in offensive fighter capability without the F35. What will our response be if China attacks in SoEast Asia, Chavez attacks one of neighbors in So America and we have no offensive air superiority.
Paul that's why I don't think the opposition to the F35/F22 is related to cost/capability or need. It is a disguised attempt to make the US into a passive observer on the world stage. That may not be a bad thing, but should be debated on that level. I don't want to see us relegated to a Jimmy Carteresque observer over events that we have no ability, (but great need) to respond to.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 12, 2010 8:43 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Moore, can you illucidate and distinguish for me and others, the F35 vs. F22 missions? Isn't the F22 the true air superiority platform? Seemed flawed to shut down the F22's original procurement numbers.

Posted by: eric hanson | December 13, 2010 6:39 AM    Report this comment

In a nutshell, it's almost the same in mission and cost as was/is the F15 vs F16 argument. No one would say that both aren't or weren't necessary, but if you remember the F16 was procured in 3 times the numbers. The F15 was an Air Superiority Fighter, long range gain control of the battle area, the F16 was the knife fighter that got in close and did defense/interdiction. The F22 has tremendous electronic/radar systems that they aren't dependent on AWACS and apparently can fulfill that role on their own, at least as I have read the limited public documents. I think at this point the F22 is about 3 times as expensive. Saw one at the MCAS Miramar Airshow and it was like watching a big NFL offensive lineman doing ballet. Almost boggled the mind, and it appears the F35 will have similar aerodynamic capabilities.

Posted by: Burns Moore | December 13, 2010 11:01 AM    Report this comment

I saw the F22 for the first time at OSH a couple of years ago. We were sitting outside in front of the press center and became aware of continuous, unmoving jet engine a quarter mile away.

We looked over and there was a jet fighter standing straight on its tail and not moving in inch. "What the &^%$ is that?!!"
I had read about the F22's vectored thrust capability, but until you see it, it's hard to grasp what it can do.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 14, 2010 10:05 AM    Report this comment

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