Our incoming president’s willingness to boldly challenge the status quo is arguably the main reason he was elected. And no defense project is more representative of a disastrous status quo than the 20-year-old Joint Strike Fighter program — the F-35. The F-35 program showcases all that is wrong about our military’s vendor-dominated, crony-capitalist procurement system. Unless dealt with decisively, its massive cost and its lack of capability will have a dramatically negative impact on our military’s effectiveness for decades to come.
Therefore, President-elect Trump’s willingness to publicly call out this $1.5 trillion program is good news.
However, getting involved in negotiating a better price on incomplete, crippled fighters will not save taxpayers any money in the long run — because the prices being negotiated between Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon are prices designed to fool the public about the F-35’s true costs. Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon both know that any “discount” or price reduction negotiated in public will quickly be made up on the back-end, where a plethora of upgrades, airframe life-extension programs, and uber-expensive spare-parts purchases over the life of the program will easily generate over $200 million for each plane delivered.
Consequently, if Trump expends presidential prestige to save a few percent off the top, it won’t solve the underlying problem. Instead, he will only validate a failed program that is a big part of the swamp he is eager to drain as part of his plan to restore our depleted military.
In place of counter-productive price negotiations, within hours of taking office President Donald Trump could use the extraordinary influence of @realDonaldTrump to tweet 127 power-packed characters: “20 years and the F-35 is still not working. Program a mess. Plane a mess. Time to stop buying F-35s! New, better planes needed!”
More than any other single action, this tweet would signal that a new sheriff is in town — a sheriff committed to taking on the entrenched special interests that have corrupted the Pentagon.
Twenty Years of Failure
Just as Donald Trump turned out to be 100 percent correct about the bloated, $4 billion Air Force One program, he would be justified in calling foul on Marine Corps and Air Force claims that their F-35s have achieved Initial Operating Capability (IOC).
Contrary to recent statements made by the executive officer of the F-35 program, Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the F-35 is not back on track. It’s time to face the facts: Because of fatal mistakes made during the conceptual design process well over 20 years ago, the F-35 will forever be crippled by intractable weight and heat issues that ensure that the program will never deliver a reliable, cost-effective fighter.
Further evidence of this was revealed on Wednesday, when Inside Defense exposed the fact that the Navy’s F-35C model has design defects that can cause pilots to suffer disorientation and severe pain when undergoing carrier catapult launches.
As it stands, Navy pilots have determined the F-35C is not “operationally suitable” for carrier launches. New design changes to the F-35C will be required that could take years — and even our carriers may need to be modified to fix the problem.
This issue has been known about for years, but until now it has been concealed from the public. So, instead of an on-track program, what we have is a pattern of deceptive statements and actions designed to create the illusion that the F-35 program is on track. (Emphasis added—Ed.)
The goal of this deception is to provide the political cover necessary to allow the F-35’s supporters in Congress to continue to fund the purchase of hundreds of incomplete, combat-incapable planes — each of which will require many years and many tens of millions of dollars of structural repairs, structural rework, systems-stability and functionality fixes, engine modifications and retrofits, and more. And that is just to get the planes to where they should have been when we took initial delivery.
Never before have we seen a warplane granted so many waivers and reductions in key performance standards. Never before have we taken delivery of so many planes so far from being complete and so far from being ready for combat.
The F-35’s severe, ongoing problems with weight have resulted in indefensible decisions affecting plane safety, reliability, and durability — the most egregious example being the removal of hundreds of pounds of equipment designed to keep pilots from dying in fiery explosions. Some of the safety equipment removed includes the fuel tank’s ballistic liner, critical fueldraulic fuses, the flammable coolant shut-off valve, and the dry bay fire-extinguishing unit.
The unprecedented and pervasive presence of flammable hydraulic fluid, flammable coolants, and fuel throughout the plane makes the F-35 a flying tinderbox. But without these risky weight-reduction measures, the F-35 will not be able to meet even its bare-minimum contractually mandated range goals.
It should be unacceptable to ask American pilots to fly these fighters.
Other bad design decisions executed in the name of saving weight have focused on reducing the airframe’s weight. For example, load-bearing structural bulkheads originally supposed to be made from fatigue-resistant titanium were swapped out with fatigue-prone aluminum bulkheads. Now, we have aluminum bulkheads suffering stress-induced fatigue cracks that will require heavier bulkheads in future F-35s and weighty retrofit kits for those that have already been built.
Unfortunately, cracked bulkheads are not the only casualty of the weight pogrom. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the National Review website.