The F-35: Such a Complete and Utter Dog
by David Archibald
21 March 2019
Coming to the realization that Mattis was a bad egg as Secretary of Defense took a while, then it became blindingly evident when he supported trannies in the military. So he went, unlamented.
Heather Wilson was obviously a bad pick for Secretary of the Air Force from the get-go. Though she had attended the USAF Academy, she had no interest in things that killed enemies of the Republic. Her book in 1990, International Law and the Use of Force by National Liberation Movements, is the sort of thing that Susan Rice or Samantha Power might have penned.
The Acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, has recused himself from involvement in any contract with Boeing, where he worked for 30 years. Fair enough in that a good man would be fond of the place he had such a long productive relationship with. That might color his perception when it came to awarding contracts.
But Heather Wilson had accepted $464,203 from Lockheed Martin for doing next to nothing. This was through Lockheed’s then management of the Sandia Nuclear Labs, so taxpayers picked up the tab. A whistleblower brought this arrangement to the attention of the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General, with the result that Lockheed had to repay most of it.
Heather Wilson, current Secretary of the United States Air Force
There is another curious thing about Heather Wilson. In her 14 years of politics, Lockheed Martin and its employees had been Wilson’s largest contributor, donating $109,000. So Lockheed had identified her early as a potential future agent. They hit the jackpot when she was appointed as Secretary of the Air Force. Of course she should have recused herself from any dealings with Lockheed, as per the Shanahan example, but she didn’t. At least Shanahan earned his income from Boeing. Wilson’s arrangement with Lockheed had bad optics, putting it as charitably as possible.
Mattis was silent on weapons systems. In his position you could either be effective or leave open the potential for a lot of board appointments in retirement. He chose the latter. Heather Wilson was also silent on weapons systems, most likely due to a lack of interest in the things. She is going now and good riddance.
Someone else has gone silent on the F-35. During the 2016 campaign President Trump disparaged the F-35, no doubt on the good advice of his staff. Then while he was president-elect he negotiated a $600 million price reduction on the contract with the plane’s maker, Lockheed Martin. But getting a price cut on the F-35 is like buying a discount photocopier -– you will be gouged on the toner.
Having achieved the price cut, Trump then owned the F-35 and started saying how wonderful it is. Those sort of utterances seem to have ended.
After 30 years with one of the world’s largest aerospace manufacturers, Patrick Shanahan might be expected to know what distinguishes a good plane from a bad one. And he has been disparaging the F-35. Trump likes Shanahan and there is likely to be a number of reasons for that — he is not fawning, or incompetent, or slow-walking Trump’s instructions, or conspiring against him. He has managed major programs, and wants value-for-money. Shanahan is aware that the US Department of Defense is overpaying for a lot of its weapons systems.
A USAF F-15
Recently the USAF committed to buying 72 F-15s, which are made by Boeing. The F-15 is a blunt instrument that first flew in 1972. Shanahan has attracted flak for the F-15 buy because of his past association with Boeing. But the notion of buying 72 F-15s has been around for years now. This article got the number right in 2015. Despite all the official denials to the contrary, the F-15 will be eating into F-35 sales. In effect it is going to be a shootout based on the best value for money.
As Defense One points out:
Pentagon budget documents also signal that the Air Force could buy hundreds of F-15s over the next decade. A tranche of 144 planes would “initially refresh” squadrons that fly Cold War-era F-15C Eagles designed for air-to-air combat. And the plane has the “potential to refresh the remainder of the F-15C/D fleet and the F-15E fleet.” In all, that’s more than 400 planes.
The reason for buying more F-15s is the same as it was in 2015: the USAF can’t afford enough F-35s to make an effective air force. In fact the F-35 should not be progressing, because it has failed to meet conditions necessary to begin Initial Operational Test and Evaluation. That phase started in December 2018 because it was given waivers.
Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense, said recently that
“the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”
That may be because the F-35 is a finicky aircraft that requires its ground support to be just so, so it can’t operate from ad hoc bases. As this article explains,
if the power provided to the F-35 is not the perfect voltage, amperage or harmonics, the aircraft will not turn on when the ground crew needs to perform functional checks.
Rather than the 400-Hz AC electrical ground power used by generations of aircraft, the F-35 uses 270-volt DC power.
Cooling is another issue:
The F-35’s multiple electronic systems generate significant heat. During maintenance, the fighter requires preconditioned air (PCA) cooling at just the right temperature. The air must be very dry at a higher pressure than standard commercial PCA.
And there is another reason why the F-35 “gets killed on the ground in large numbers.” The US military is finding it very hard to get the thing in the air. Consider the statistics conveyed by these graphs:
F-35B Readiness – October 2016 to October 2018
The B is the version the Marines will try to use. Some 50 per cent of their F-35Bs can get into the air at any one time — the blue line. The green line is the proportion of aircraft that can actually be sent into harm’s way. That is somewhat lower, at about 15 per cent, and the trend is flat. So if you had 50 F-35Bs, then seven-odd of them could do battle.
F-35C Readiness – October 2016 to October 2018
The F-35C is the version that the US Navy has been assigned. They have never been keen on it and now we understand why. Both availability (blue line) and those aircraft that are Fully Mission Capable (green line) are both in downtrend. Things are just getting worse for some reason. Based on those statistics, if you had 50 F-35Cs on your flattop then you might get two or three able to be sent into battle at any one time.
This is truly appalling. These graphs were provided by a patriot in the US Navy. It is likely that the USAF statistics are similar.
Rand modelling in 2008 had most F-35s being shot down in a war with China due to the fact that it “can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run”. Shot down or blown up on the ground due to the fact that the F-35 finds it very difficult to leave the ground — the effect is the same.
Shanahan has started preparing for war with China by changing the order of battle. The carrier USS Harry S. Truman is being retired early, ostensibly to save the costs of refueling. Aircraft carriers are now considered unable to get close enough to China to be effective in battle without being an easy target for Chinese long range missiles. So the money saved will be spent on more survivable systems. Two amphibious ships are also being retired.
What can we in Australia do to prepare for the battle ahead? Firstly Sweden has some 40 Gripen C and Gripen D parked up. We should do a panic buy of those. The RAAF has already started sending F-18s to Canada in anticipation of the F-35s that will be coming. We should bulk up as soon as possible with aircraft that aren’t clapped out and can go up against Flankers.
Secondly, Australia’s military performance in WW2 was dismal until the high command was killed off in the crash of a plane taking off from Canberra. We need another fiery plane crash to take out the incompetents responsible for the French submarine decision and the F-35 debacle. If that takes two separate crashes, so be it.
David Archibald’s latest book is American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare