The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program resulted in a train wreck: the F-35 Lightning II. It was originally touted as a universal aircraft for all three military branches as well as a great choice for our allies. What has made the F-35 so bad?
The program is behind schedule and has gone over budget; it has become the most expensive weapons program in U.S. military history. The F-35 was supposed to save money because all three versions would be built off a common assembly line, which on paper seems like an excellent idea. After all, the F/A-18 was built off the same assembly line, so why isn’t the F-35 successful?
The answer is simple: Lockheed is trying to do too much. SVTOL is a great concept, but in most cases it isn’t practical. The advantages are obvious: you don’t need a runway to take off, and you don’t need massive aircraft carriers to launch jets. The disadvantages are catastrophic. With SVTOL come severe limitations. The aircraft must use a greater amount of fuel, and has a lower fuel capacity, and therefore a lower combat radius and overall flight radius. If Lockheed was building three separate aircraft, or even two (one version for the Air Force and another for the Navy and Marines), the F-35 could eliminate one of the largest problems with the F-35: the single engine limitation. Despite the F-35 having the most powerful engine ever put into a fighter, it lacks supercruise (a feature that the F/A-22 and many Russian aircraft possess, including the PAK FA) and has a relatively slow top speed of the jet is 1,500 miles per hour, while the F-16 has a top speed of Mach 2.3 (unloaded). The PAK FA can supercruise at the F-35’s top speed. This is not a problem that can be overlooked, especially when you consider the F-35’s low payload of 17,000 pounds. This is considerably lower than the F-15E’s 23,600 pounds. The jet cannot even fly in cloudy weather! Oh, and it can’t fly at night… Or near lightning (maybe because it is the lightning? Okay, bad joke. Sorry). This is the exact opposite of an effective fighter. These issues aren’t the entire picture; these are simply the statistical combat deficiencies.
The F-35 has been plagued by major problems as well. Lockheed has enlisted more than 1,300 suppliers for the F-35, from 45 different states. This gives the jet a “too big to fail” label because of all the political protection it has. Perhaps the elasticity the jet has explains Lockheed’s lack of quality control with the jet. Earlier this year, an F-35A engine caught on fire mid-takeoff and caused a total grounding of the fleet. What was the cause? The blades were rubbing in the engine. Yes, you read that right. The blades in the jet (the integrally blade rotor or IBR to be precise) were RUBBING together and could have killed the pilot if he would have been in the air. There was also another issue with the IBR cracking in late 2013, which could have broken off completely and destroyed the engine and forced an ejection by the pilot. These are just the engine failures, not including all the other failures involving the airframe. Oh, by the way, the F-35 is perfect if you like flying in a jet that stalls randomly, this is the jet for you.
The government will have WASTED 1.5 BILLION dollars by the time the F-35 project is ready (CNBC). The Russian Sukhoi Su-35S, on the other hand, has a better radar radius, better range, it can carry 6 more missiles than the JSF (10 for the Sukhoi and 4 for the JSF), and can carry an external conformal fuel tank. Those are just the specs, the Sukhoi has the overall advantage in combat as well. It can enter combat at supersonic speeds, unlike the F-35, and has an endgame electronic countermeasure system (can automatically jam all radar signals to prevent being targeted by missiles). Oh… By the way, the F-35 costs over $150 million a pop, while the superior Su-35 costs $40 million.
There are other alternatives to the F-35, mainly for the Air Force. The F-15SE (Silent Eagle) I a stealth version of the F-15 Strike Eagle, most likely the best fighter-bomber ever built. Why won’t the Air Force change their minds and go to the Silent Eagle? Simple: Lockheed has a lot of friends in the high brass. They won both the ATF and JSF contracts. The Silent Eagle appears to be a much better aircraft, faster, better payload (25,900 pounds), and the F-15 is a proven aircraft.
I predict that the F-35 will be the next F-111. I hope it will not be, but it seems the most likely scenario. The F-35 is slated to be the backbone of America’s air power. If it continues to fail, we might lose out air superiority to the likes of the PAK FA and Su-35S, not including the rise of the Chinese Air Force, enter the Chengdu J-20.
American lives are on the chopping block if the F-35 continues to be developed. I fear all of NATO will be in grave danger if the plans for the F-35 go through.
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