What went wrong with the F-35? Expert reveals why jet is ‘one of the greatest boondoggles in history’

What went wrong with the F-35? Expert reveals why jet is ‘one of the greatest boondoggles in history’, by Michael Hughes, Professor of Finance, Francis Marion University.

U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters from the 58th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Wing, Eglin AFB, Fla. May 2013

Stealth is easily defeated. An aircraft’s geometry can only be designed to be stealthy at one radar frequency, and its stealthiness declines as you move away from that frequency. And of course stealth is no help against the proliferating passive detection systems. Guess what?

The F-35 is designed to be stealthy primarily in the X-band, the radar frequency range most commonly used for targeting in air-to-air combat [wavelengths of 2.5 to 3.75 cm].

In other radar frequencies, the F-35 is not so stealthy, making it vulnerable to being tracked and shot down using current – and even obsolete – weapons. …

In addition to the performance compromises made to allow stealth, too many design compromises were made trying to be all things to all roles:

Part of the enormous cost has come as a result of an effort to share aircraft design and replacement parts across different branches of the military.

In 2013, a study by the RAND Corporation found that it would have been cheaper if the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy had simply designed and developed separate and more specialized aircraft to meet their specific operational requirements. …

In January 2015, mock combat testing pitted the F-35 against an F-16, one of the fighters it is slated to replace…. The F-35A was less maneuverable and markedly inferior to the F-16D in a visual-range dogfight.

One key reason the F-35 doesn’t possess the world-beating air-to-air prowess promised, and is likely not even adequate when compared with its current potential adversaries, is that it was designed first and foremost to be a stealthy airplane.

This requirement has taken precedence over maneuverability, and likely above its overall air-to-air lethality. The Pentagon and especially the Air Force seem to be relying almost exclusively on the F-35’s stealth capabilities to succeed at its missions. …

Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon say the F-35’s superiority over its rivals lies in its ability to remain undetected, giving it ‘first look, first shot, first kill.’

Hugh Harkins, a highly respected author on military combat aircraft, called that claim ‘a marketing and publicity gimmick’ in his book on Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35S, a potential opponent of the F-35.

He also wrote, ‘In real terms an aircraft in the class of the F-35 cannot compete with the Su-35S for out and out performance such as speed, climb, altitude, and maneuverability.’ …

Pierre Sprey, a cofounding member of the so-called ‘fighter mafia’ at the Pentagon and a co-designer of the F-16, calls the F-35 an ‘inherently a terrible airplane’ that is the product of ‘an exceptionally dumb piece of Air Force PR spin.’

He has said the F-35 would likely lose a close-in combat encounter to a well-flown MiG-21, a 1950s Soviet fighter design. …

This a lemon. Abandon it.

Essentially, the Pentagon has declared the F-35 ‘too big to fail.’

As a retired member of the U.S. Air Force and current university professor of finance who has been involved in and studied military aviation and acquisitions, I find the F-35 to be one of the greatest boondoggles in recent military purchasing history. …

So-called sunk costs, the money already paid on a project, should never be a factor in investment decisions. Rather, spending should be based on how it will add value in the future. …

I believe the F-35 program should be immediately cancelled; the technologies and systems developed for it should be used in more up-to-date and cost-effective aircraft designs.

Specifically, the F-35 should be replaced with a series of new designs targeted toward the specific mission requirements of the individual branches of the armed forces, in lieu of a single aircraft design trying to be everything to everyone.

hat-tip Matthew