F-35 Fanboy Makes His Case

By Dave Schroeder

Fair warning: what follows is commentary about the F-35. However, this isn’t going to be a very popular commentary, as it doesn’t follow suit with the endless stream of recent articles, opinions, and blog posts making the F-35 out to be the worst debacle in the history of the militaries of the world. On top of those you’d expect, even automotive and IT blogs have piled on.

People who have no idea how government acquisition works, nor the purpose of the Joint Strike Fighter program — or even some who do, among many with ideological axes to grind — relish trashing the F-35, always managing to include “trillion dollar” (or more) somewhere in the title of the latest article to lambast the plane.

The F-35 is a multirole fighter that is designed to replace nearly every fighter in not just the Air Force inventory, but the Navy and Marine Corps as well: the F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B, and A-10, and to augment and partially replace the F-15 and F-22. The F-35 lifetime cost will be less than that of all the diverse platforms it is replacing — and their own eventually needed replacements.

China devoted significant national espionage resources to stealing everything they could about the F-35, and implementing much of what they stole in the J-31/F-60 and J-20, China’s own next-generation multipurpose stealth fighters. This theft added years of delays and hundreds of millions of additional redesign dollars to F-35 development.


Navy test pilot LT Chris Tabert takes off in F-35C test aircraft CF-3 in the first launch of the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter from the Navy’s new electromagnetic aircraft launch system, set to install on USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78).

If anything, the F-35 suffers from being a “jack of all trades, master of none” — which is itself a bit of an overstatement — but we also can’t afford the alternative of follow-on replacement for all existing platforms. And for all the delays, we still have aircraft in the inventory to serve our needs for the next 10-20 years. Articles oversimplifying sensor deficiencies in the first generation, software issues with its 25mm cannon (the gun remains on schedule), or the oft-quoted 2008 RAND report, apparently choose overlook the reality that it’s not going to be instantaneously better in every respect than every aircraft it is replacing, and may never replace aircraft like the A-10 for close air support.

The F-35 development process is no more disorganized than any other USG activity, and if you want to look for people protecting special interests, it’s not with the F-35 — ironically, it’s with those protecting all of the myriad legacy platforms, and all of the countless different contractors and interests involved with not just the aircraft, but all of the subsystems made by even more contractors, all of whom want to protect their interests, and which are served quite well by a non-stop stream of articles and slickly-produced videos slamming the F-35.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was originally to cost $500 million, and is now expected to cost $8.8 billion and will be over a decade late. Shall we cancel it? Or take the pragmatic approach when the purpose of the mission is important and no reasonable alternatives exist? This isn’t a problem with just DOD acquisition. It’s the reality in which we live.

A F-35B hovers during testing.
A F-35B hovers during testing.

One of the reasons the JSF program, and the F-35, came into being is precisely because we won’t be able to afford maintaining and creating replacements for a half-dozen or more disparate aircraft tailor-made for specific services and missions.

The F-35 itself is actually three different aircraft built around the same basic airframe, engine, and systems. The F-35A is the Air Force air attack variant, the F-35B is the VSTOL Marine Corps variant, and the F-35C is the Navy carrier-based variant. If we had already retired every plane the F-35 is supposed to be replacing, there might be cause for concern. But as it stands, we have retired none, and won’t until the F-35 can begin to act in their stead.

The A-10, for instance, has found new life over the last 12 years in close air support roles, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is often held out as an either/or proposition against the F-35. No one ever claimed that the F-35 was a drop-in replacement for an aircraft like the A-10, and no one could have predicted the success the A-10 would again find in environments not envisioned when the JSF program came into being — though some of this success is overstated, claims otherwise notwithstanding. The Air Force is faced with difficult resource prioritization choices; if the A-10 is that critical, keep it. The debate on the future of CAS isn’t dead.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brad Matherne, a pilot with the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, conducts preflight checks inside an F-35A Lightning II aircraft before its first operational training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis AFB, NV.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Brad Matherne, a pilot with the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, conducts preflight checks inside an F-35A Lightning II aircraft before its first operational training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis AFB, NV.

If there are questions as to why we even need a fifth-generation manned multirole fighter with the rise of unmanned systems, cyber, and so on, the answer is an easy one: China and Russia both developed fifth-generation fighters, and the purpose of these aircraft isn’t only in a direct war between the US and either of those nations, but for US or allied military activity in a fight with any other nation using Chinese or Russian military equipment, or being protected by China or Russia. You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.

The F-35 isn’t just a US platform: it will also be used by the UK, Canada, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Turkey, Singapore, and perhaps other nations. And the fact is, this is not only our fifth-generation manned fighter, it is likely the last. We cannot afford to have separate systems replace all or even most of the platforms the F-35 is replacing, nor can we simply decide to forgo replacements and extend the life of existing platforms by decades.

The F-35 is our nation’s next generation fighter, and it’s here to stay.


F-35B ship suitability testing in 2011 aboard USS Wasp (LHD-1)

Dave Schroeder serves as an Information Warfare Officer in the US Navy, and as a tech geek at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. He holds a master’s degree in Information Warfare, and is a graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). He also manages the Navy IDC Self Synchronization effort. When not defending the F-35, he enjoys arguing on the internet. Follow @daveschroeder and @IDCsync.

51 thoughts on “F-35 Fanboy Makes His Case”

  1. I believe the main concern about F-35 is how it will perform against current and 5th generation Russian fighters and against current/future Russian air-defense systems. F-35 is the ‘Jack-for-all-trade’, if it will be not able to perform against Russian air-superiority fighters, there will be no ‘Jack’ left to perform assigned tasks.

    1. Thats a very big assumption. The “jack of all trades” is way over-blown on the F-35. In fact, its not even a fitting metaphor. The F-16 and F-18 have a lot in common not to mention their multi-roles overlap. Having a new platform that bridges both capabilities of both fighters is more than sensible and achievable. If either could VTOL/STOL, you would have no need for an AV8B. And there you have it! The three fighters the F-35 is replacing (F-16, F-18 & AV8B). That does not fit the definition of a “Jack of all trades.” Its not far-fetched at all unless the DoD was trying to also design it to replace the F-22 and F-15.

      As far as the A-10? There is too much myth surrounding that bird. Is the armor aircraft the only one capable of CAS? Marines have been successfully doing CAS for decades with their AV8Bs despite not having the A-10s armor or 30mm avenger. CAS and COIN are capabilities not platforms For the past 10-12 years, the USAF has gotten out of the “Low and slow” tactics for CAS preferring “Fast and High” tactics along with PGMS which have been very effective and successful (including A-10s). A-10s don’t go tree top level unless strafing soft targets in non-contested airspace today (which is overkill). Something any fighter with a 20-25mm vulcan can do and attack choppers can do even better in COIN. F-16s and B1bs have pretty much taken over the A-10s job in the CAS role. Surely an F-35 can do better than an F-16 or an AV8B

      1. For CAS, fast-and-high is simply delivering a PGM to a JTAC–he’s doing CAS, not the pilot. If there is no JTAC available, low-and-slow is the only way to identify the targets properly.

        The beauty of dedicated CAS planes like the A-10 and Harrier is that they are flown by dedicated CAS pilots, who can fly low-and-slow missions when the need arises.

        Given the prevalence of low-intensity conflicts, and the expense of flying F-35s, it would be cheaper to have a dedicated platform and minimize the CAS role of F-35s.

        1. Incorrect. It would not be cheaper to have dedicated platforms. Not when you have to fly F18s, f16s and F15s (or an f35) over the same region anyway just to pacify ground and air threats just so the A10s and Av8b can operate. A platforms most expensive costs are from the infrastructure that supports it not its procurement. Cheaper to reload an f35 for a different mission then to have to support two different platform squadrons. Plus the F35 is dropping in costs.

          Remember, A10s can only operate in non-contested airspace. They cannot engage A2A targets and they cannot hunt for SAMs. Sure they can take a beating from older AAA fire but they are highly vulnerable to modern SAMs and now these modern MANPADS that even a Taliban farmer will soon be able to get their hands on. So if a MANPAD pops out of hiding or a mobile enemy SAM evades a SAM hunt, its going to be more expensive to replace a dead pilot and out of pocket a lost A10 or Harrier.

          Since many of the A10 and F16 pilots are transferring to the F35A, you are getting many dedicated CAS USAF pilots in the JSF. Since the Marines F35b pilots are former Harrier pilots, you are getting a dedicated Marine CAS pilot being placed in an aircraft that does everything the Harrier does only better. The F35b carries more, flies faster, accelerates better, maneuvers better, has way more range and is safer all around including VSTOL operations. It will get on station faster in emergencies, and have incredible situational awareness.

          1. Whole-life costs do tend to weight more towards operations and maintenance, but the F-35 not only expensive to buy, but also more expensive to fly and fix than most of its predecessors. It will probably be cheaper than an F-15E, but it is expected to be 25% more per flight hour than the F-16. Also, multi-mission aircraft need to burn more training hours to keep their pilots current on multiple skills, which is harder on airframes and pilots.

            To be fair, the F-35 was 78.3% over budget in 2013, but when the GAO analyzed the program in 2015, it was only 74.7% over budget. I guess you could call that “getting cheaper” but it is still 74% over budget and 104% behind schedule.

            As for “non-contested environments”–no strike jets operate alone in contested environments. Every strike package includes dedicated fighters for air threats and dedicated jammers for radar threats. Anyone who tells you the F-35 will be different is feeding you a line of BS.

            I have no doubt that Marine F-35B pilots will continue to be excellent CAS operators, because that is the focus of the Marine Corps, and the aircraft being employed never mattered. For the Air Force, it is exactly the opposite–the Fighter Squadrons equipped with the A-10 excel at killing ground targets because they have no other options.

            CAS is not a central focus of the Air Force; they have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the CAS game every time the US Army fights a ground war, and then the Air Force works hard to forget the mission and retire the A-10. When the Cold War ended, they tried to retire the A-10. When the memory of Desert Storm faded, they tried to retire the A-10. Now that Iraq and Afghanistan are fading, they are trying to retire the A-10. Do you see a pattern?

            Unlike every other platform the Air Force retires, there is no massive, multi-billion-dollar effort to replace the A-10 with a comparable item, because the existence of a dedicated CAS aircraft is the only thing forcing the Air Force to acknowledge the CAS mission. To maximize the effect of an F-35 in CAS would require that squadrons ignore air-to-air capabilities, which would defeat the purpose of equipping CAS squadrons with such expensive aircraft.

  2. Yup, definitely a fanboy. Here’s the issue: the program is not performing technically, financially, or with respect to time. A Rand report has already concluded that developing 3 different aircraft would have been more cost and time effective. The aircraft is not going to more effective than its predecessors until the notional Block 4/5 versions are developed and delivered in the mid 2020’s. Right now, the Navy is planning to use it more of a forward based sensor than a strike aircraft. Wisely, they are also delaying their purchases until the aircraft becomes less expensive, yet its per unit cost over the life of the program will still be about double that of the Super Hornet – a very advanced aircraft in the same class of the F-35. This actually points to my major issue with the F-35C: it does not bring the range needed for carrier based aircraft. The F-35C is too small and its stealth technology is not sufficient to counter advances in air defense systems. This aircraft has been in development since the 1990’s, yet it will meet IOC until later this year for one of its variants – and not until 2018/19 for the F-35C. The complexity of designing 3 variants extended its development cycle to the detriment of the program as a whole. We should never allow this to happen again.

    1. Almost none of your points have any bearing on the present situation with the F-35. The Rand report about acquisition theory is irrelevant 25 years down the road. The developement costs are sunk, so who cares? The delays are already incurred and F-35s are already flying in operational squadrons.

      The Super Hornet is NOT in the same class as the F-35 considered as a whole. IOC for the F-35C is only 3 years away. So what? That is the plan. That does not detract in any way from the F-35 design or performance.

      You need to be thinking Forward 30 years, not wistfully dreaming about the airplanes you built plastic models of as a boy.

    2. Your comments comparing the F-35 and Super Hornet are a bit disturbing…

      Cost: The F-35 will cost 87 million fly-away in then-year-dollars. Today, that’s about 75 million. A current Block II Super Hornet costs about 80 million, a Growler costs 85+ million.

      Systems:

      The F-35 has a far more powerful radar

      The F-35 has integrated and more advanced countermeasures (such as ECM)

      The F-35 has six built in electro-optical sensors allowing the aircraft to target anything (ground or air) anywhere around the aircraft. The Super Hornet has no such thing, it needs a targeting pod which has a very limited field of view.

      The F-35’s avionics and computers automatically (without the pilot) find, target and track targets. No aircraft accept the F-22 can do such a thing, and the F-22 can only do this with air targets.

      The F-35 has a RCS estimated at .01-.001. The Super Hornet is… let’s say larger.

      The F-35, when loaded the same as an F-18/F-16, has a lower lift loading and higher thrust to weight.

      So why does the USN plan to use the F-35 as a ‘sensor node’? Because the Super Hornets lack the capabilities, and can piggy-back off the F-35. A single F-35 can provide targeting information for a whole squadron of F-18s. If the USN didn’t use F-35’s as targeting nodes, the F-18 would become almost useless.

    3. Yep-you’re a fanboy….The Super Hornet IS NOT an advanced aircraft. It was the best radar we can put to sea right now and a great cockpit. It’s ideal for bombing third world countries into Oblivion, and it stops there. It wastes more fuel than anything except a true turbojet. It’s high drag airframe, fights against its demanded high IMN for best cruise speed for the engines, it can’t double cycle like it’s predecessor. It’s only the Hornet we should have had in 1981 with upgrades. Period, end of story. Every AMRAAM shooter out there has an AMRAAM with longer range because it can launch at higher altitude and launch speed. The draggy Superbug is a great sensot platform and an OK bomb truck. It’s purported “extra weapons stations” aren’t true at all. In practice it carries the same external tanks as the legacy hornet and does not launch with more weapons in 90% of its missions. Its a stopgap bandaid, that’s it. For all the problems the F-35C has, it is easily a far superior platform except where 2 crew are required. It has much greater realistic range, much greater weapons range, and much greater survivability in all flight regimes period. The Superbug looks great at airshows and will have victory in a 1v1 dogfight where a combat load isn’t carried. Reality slams the Super Hornet in the face, that’s why the only export order was made as a support aircraft for the F-35 and a cheap stopgap until the F-35 comes online.

      1. Some erroneous “facts” being presented here the various members of the F-35 “50 Cent Party.” The F-35C is not going to be $87M, ever. At best, the GWSUC is ~$135M to complete. Right now, it is far more than that. And those who insist that SH are not advanced aircraft simply do not know what they are talking about. Does the Super Hornet need replacement? Eventually, yes, but not right now, and certainly not by the essentially equivalent F-35C. The timed out legacy / classic Hornet should be replaced – and that is what F-35C is planned to do – but are so costly it doesn’t make financial sense. A better strategy is to buy a mix of SH/Growlers and a reduced number of F-35C to replace the old A-Ds (instead of SLEPing.) Thankfully, Navy leadership seems to get this

      2. I’ve included links to the Navy’s F-18 Fact File, and the Air Force F-35 Fact File. They are both more claims than reality, but the Super Hornet is a lighter aircraft with more thrust, and claims a higher top speed than the JSF (Land Version).

        The F-35 is probably a great fighter deep inside, but needs to lose 10000lbs.

        http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=1100&tid=1200&ct=1

        http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/FactSheets/Display/tabid/224/Article/478441/f-35a-lightning-ii-conventional-takeoff-and-landing-variant.aspx

    1. Not really… The F-35 will cost one trillion (all associated costs: training, upgrades, sustainment, munitions, software, etc) over the course of 55 years. That’s far cheaper than the US’ nuclear arsenal (which US generals consider worthless by the way). That’s also one fourth of maintaining the current fleet of legacy fighters for only the next 30 years.

      1. That’s far cheaper than the US’ nuclear arsenal (which US generals consider worthless by the way). >>>>
        US nuclear arsenal might be worthless for 3rd World countries, but this arsenal is the ONLY reason why ussr/russia has not annihilated USA up to now. And still, they are absolutely sure that even now they can win nuclear war against USA (the rest of the West is of no importance). You might ask how do I know that. Simple – I’m former soviet officer, from Latvia, middle of the Baltic states. That time it was not possible to graduate University without becoming the officer of soviet occupational army. That time, middle 80s, as a ‘kursant’ I for the first time visited Germany. Well, what WAS Germany once upon a time. Ostpreusen, Königsberg region (Gusevo). While digging in the sands of Königsberg, senor soviet officers were usually laughing: ‘Why do you have to dig this this shit here, why you are not laying on the beaches of Normandia or Florida??? Because of these f*****g Americans! If there would be no Americans in Europe, our grandfathers would not have to rape these ugly German ‘Frauen’, they would trash all French teens!!! There is no real army in Europe, only Americans!!! You have to hate them! We, soviets, could nuke them ALL, but Americans will strike back, and deadly!!!’.’ That was the indoctrination that time. Do you really believe that something has changed since? Really? Don’t be naive, my dear American Friends! Military doctrines are not dispersed, they are only upgraded. Nuclear power of USA is the ONLY power that still preserves the whole world from russian aggression. Assuming that USA are committed to use it without the hesitation, when the time will come.

      2. The f-35 is a half glass full and bankrupting this country. Both the F-35 and the LCS is showing how the US Military is failing it’s people so badly and providing gear that is a JOKE.

      3. Where do you get 55 years? The F-35 certainly won’t serve that long; is that counting the 20 years of development?

        While a trillion seems about right for whole-life costs of the F-35 fleet, where are you getting your numbers? I guarantee that the alternatives don’t actually cost four trillion dollars.

  3. Finally an article based on simple facts rather than trying to mislead readers by presenting incorrect accounting assessments over fifty-year timelines. The production cost of the F-35 has come down fifty percent over the past four years. If America and our Allies hadn’t spent our national treasures on two protracted wars, the F-35 production could have ramped up steeply saving more per-unit costs. Ironically, that money was spent on many rapid-response initiatives like the MRAP where there are more than thirty configurations of a vehicle getting only four miles to the gallon and incur massive costs for storage and disposal. MRAPs are of no utility off the battlefield and I don’t see articles on the massive costs of the MRAP and other short-term programs which consumed much of the military budget.

    The F-35 is unsurpassed in it’s current design and capabilities. It’s as revolutionary to airborne sensors and weapons delivery platforms as the iPhone was to the telecommunications industry. Future pilots will employ the F-35 in manners no other aircraft can. The onboard sensors are elegantly integrated to revolutionize mission planning, operations, maintenance, and upgrades. When limitiations are encountered, pilot’s desires will be implemented via software and simple hardware upgrades. In other words, there will be apps for their desires.

    Interoperability with our partner nations will realize significant savings in logistics, training, maintenance and weaponeering. Detractors of the F-35 typically have ulterior agendas as the author pointed out. Their claims of F-35 deficiencies to date have all been laid to rest by the outstanding performance of the F-35 and its systems in flight test and now operational tests. There are issues, but they are typical and easily solved by the competent engineers on the contractor and government teams.

    1. If that’s supposed to be sarcasm, you don’t have the touch. The F-35 flight tests to date have been hit and miss, and most of the systems won’t be an improvement for another decade, because the baseline was frozen to get the plane flying.

      Interoperability? Most of the aircraft the F-35 will replace are either F-16s or F-18s, which are like the F-35 but cheaper, and the Super Hornets already have better radars than the F-35s will.

      The F-35 would have been revolutionary if it had come out ten years ago, but today it is just an impediment to the generation of drones we should be working on.

    2. The MRAP has demonstrably saved lives. The F-35 hasn’t. Defense acquisitions are most relevant when they meet a timely defense need, as the MRAP did. It was created for a very specific purpose for a very specific threat. Ask the men who fought against a thinking enemy what they would rather have.

  4. “designed to replace nearly every fighter…, and A-10” -and- “may never replace aircraft like the A-10 for close air support”

    One of those must be wrong.

    “This [chinese] theft added years of delays …”

    A good lesson that security-by-obscurity isn’t.

  5. “If anything, the F-35 suffers from being a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’”

    War gives no points for second place. Most of our existing aircraft are already multirole, and the results are mixed. On one hand, they have such dramatic advantage in sensors that they can overlook weaknesses in kinematics, on the other hand, old fighters like the Tomcat would be incredible if they carried a Super Hornet’s APG-79, and the A-6 still carried far more than an F-18 ever will.

    “The F-35 itself is actually three different aircraft built around the same basic airframe, engine, and systems.”

    If you supercharge the engine on a Honda Odyssey and give it new tires, that doesn’t make it a Ford Mustang. The F-35 is based off the lowest common denominator of the USMC STOVL variant, and it leaves the USAF variant looking like a supercharged minivan–better than nothing, but not a real racecar.

    “If we had already retired every plane the F-35 is supposed to be replacing, there might be cause for concern. But as it stands, we have retired none, and won’t until the F-35 can begin to act in their stead.”

    If the USAF brass got their wish, we would have retired the A-10 twenty years ago, and almost every year since. The pro-JSF crowd would love to retire ever platform which threatens to outperform the JSF, which is most of them. I am far past being able to trust the higher-ups to assess the JSF strictly on merits.

    “The F-35 is our nation’s next generation fighter, and it’s here to stay.”

    The F-35 is already largely obsolete, and that we are stuck with it is a crying shame that speaks very poorly of our senior leadership.

    1. The A-6 and F-14 are long gone relics of the Cold War. You can’t keep designs from 1960 and 1965 flying even if you build new ones.

      It was obvious by the end of Desert Storm in 1991 the A-6 was tactically obsolete since it could not fly the higher speed and altitude attack profiles of the F-18 ABC.

      No other tactical plane has matched the A-6 for payload and iron bomb accuracy. But that is irrelevant. Desert Storm showed that capability was obsolete and that precision guided bombs out performed pure tonnage by a dozen to one or more. Let it go!

      While the F-14 airframe still has adequate performance, it has almost no other attributes of the F-35. Again, it’s mechanical design, materials and maintenance philosophy were 50 years old and hopelessly obsolete. Let it go!

      Multipurpose, multi-role aircraft are a well established tradition, AND SUCCESSFUL, in the US military…The F-4, F-100, F-105, F-15, F-16. Don’t get wrapped around the axle.

      The F-35 is flying now, it’s in operational squadrons and it will perform well in future wars.

      1. “No other tactical plane has matched the A-6 for payload and iron bomb accuracy. But that is irrelevant. Desert Storm showed that capability was obsolete and that precision guided bombs […]”

        Just curious, to what extent was the possibility of mounting precision guided bombs on A-6 evaluated?

      2. I’m not suggesting we pull A-6s out of the boneyard, its the concept of design I’m referencing. The A-6 did prefer lower altitudes than Hornets, due to different engines, but their speed was fine, and their payload was incredible. Single-mission bombers can’t fight their way into a target, but F-18s have to be pretty lightly loaded to execute a self-escorted-strike; anything serious has the force split between strikers and fighters.

        The F-14 was successful for the same reason as almost every successful “multi-role” fighter; excess thrust. Big engines can make a brick fly, as proved by the F-4, and a sleeker design can go really fast, like the F-15. The F-16 is a great aircraft, but it does not have a massive payload.

        http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/FactSheets/Display/tabid/224/Article/104505/f-16-fighting-falcon.aspx

        http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/FactSheets/Display/tabid/224/Article/104499/f-15e-strike-eagle.aspx

        http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/FactSheets/Display/tabid/224/Article/478441/f-35a-lightning-ii-conventional-takeoff-and-landing-variant.aspx

        If you compare the F-35 to the F-15Es and F-16s it is trying to replace, the F-35 is slower, with a worse thrust-to-weight of either of them. That bodes poorly for the “fighter” portion of being a multi-role aircraft.

        1. What makes Gen-4 aircraft great multirole fighters are their avionics. When the F-16 debuted, it won bombing competitions against dedicated attack aircraft like the Jaguar because the F16 has a very accurate and easy-to-use bombing targeting system. The 1991 Gulf War proved that PGM’s are the way to go. The A-10 was relegated to flying no less than 10000 feet because it was taking higher losses than every other ground attack aircraft and ended up being used like F-16’s and F-18’s where employing Maverick missiles was the most common method of attack. The F-18 was able to shoot down two Mig-21’s while carrying 500lb bombs and then continue on to finish attacking it’s ground targets.
          Being able to detect, track, identify, and shoot enemy targets at standoff ranges is the name of the game. Something the F-35 will do far better then Gen-4 aircraft.

          1. The F-18s which killed MiGs during a Self-Escort Strike during Desert Storm didn’t find the MiGs on their own, they were cued to them by an E-2C. The MiGs were clueless throughout.

            As for how well the F-35 will be able to take orders from AWACS, it is currently carrying radar technology that was frozen a decade ago so they could get the systems integration done. It will be years before the F-35 gets a radar as good as the ones on Super Hornets and upgraded Strike Eagles.

  6. Actually, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and similar welfare programs are bankrupting the country (they take up more than 60% of the federal budget). Regardless of what you think of the program or plane we are committed and have no choice but to see it through.

  7. Very common to see articles such as this posted by an individual or “institutes” paid for by the likes of Lockheed Martin. Is this article a genuine individual’s work or just another of the many such articles to blur the simple fact the F-35’s program status should never be where it is today? And it is today now 15 years in development, 8 years behind schedule, $160+ billion over budget and still the entire 120+ fleet of F-35 continue to have severe flight restrictions, problems and limitations with most of the wonderful gadgets that were to be so great in service by 2012. If only all the other non F-35 jet programs were sitting idle!

    Toss in the questionable effectiveness of the stealth over time with evolving competitor / adversary technologies, lack of range, no true armed continuous super cruise, over weight high wing loading poor flight performance, incapable of operating with minimal support, high cost per hour…(the list is endless.) the picture becomes much less in favor of the F-35 as a platform to be burdened with for the next 30 years. The toys that do work well in F-35 can be used in another jet but many of those toys are not working “as advertised”.

    Sure we all understand all fighter programs have issues but when the history of the F-35 failures, issues and delays are added up it is a big pileup of concerns. Note the supporters of F-35 like to spread them out as much as possible avoid the obvious. Many of the issues may never be solved such as the high heat issues. Now the F-35 program is skipping some testing in order to keep on the schedule it now knows it must keep or heaven forbid the truth will be known.

    Sorry Fanboy not buying it. F-35 is not and never will be the jet it’s makers promised the tax payers of the western world. With the comment “we are stuck with it and must make the best of it” now the mantra of many in the USA armed forces is not a fighter program in the best interests of those it promised so much to yet to but will never deliver at costs that are unacceptable.

    1. Just wanted to respond to explicitly clarify that these thoughts are my own, and I am neither directly nor indirectly connected with Lockheed Martin nor the JSF/F-35 program.

      1. Are the fighter pilots you have asked for the JSF, against it, or ambivalent because they don’t expect it to be operational during their careers?

        (Most of the ones I’ve talked to are the third case)

    1. Lol because air chair aero specialists are smart than the Top 10 western airforces combined. Surely the Isralies are being doped into buying this plane.

      1. Honestly, everyone (especially the US Marine Corps) is playing the US Air Force for a fool–the USAF will blow its entire aircraft budget developing, fielding, and supporting the F-35, and everyone else will free-ride.

        The Marines make out like bandits because they convinced the Air Force to develop an awesome STOVL fighter for them, and compromise on everything that didn’t work for the Corps. The Marines get the best jump-jet ever, and the Air Force gets a flying pig.

    2. We can’t expect an “F-35 Fanboy” to address issues while his ideological blinders are on, with fingers in his ears, reciting “F-35 is alive, la la laaa, I can’t heeear you!”

  8. Combat aircraft need to be judged relative to their mission requirements, not according to their absolute qualities. The A-10 may be the best absolute CAS platform, but relative to the required CAS missions, the F-35 may be just as good. And it can do other things like deep strike missions, battlefield interdiction, reconnaissance, etc.
    It’s like when most people buy cars…they may have some cargo-carrying needs( 1-2 grocery bags, 1-2 luggages, etc. ) but they don’t go out and buy a pickup truck because it has the best cargo-carrying capabilites. And they may have some passenger-carrying needs, but they don’t go out and buy a passenger van or a bus because those are the best at carrying passengers.
    What do they usually do? Buy a 4-door sedan like a Honda Accord because it does a little bit of everything and does them as well as people need it to do. Buying specialized vehicles for every need would be overkill and not affordable for most people.
    The only way for the military to save money and be as cost-effective as possible is to continue the great multirole legacy established by planes like the F-4, F-16 and F-18. The F-35 will provide the same performance but add new and necessary features like stealth and sensor fusion.
    Makes alot of sense to me.

    1. The F-4 and F-16 continue the great tradition of building a capable fighter, with excess thrust and a high-g airframe, and then hanging bombs on it. The F-15E is probably the greatest example of this. My point being, these were fighters first and last, but dropped bombs to earn their way.

      The F-18 was a compromise to ensure enough pointy-nose jets on a carrier deck. The original Hornets were slower than Tomcats, although still faster than the JSF is expected to be, but they were cheap and easier to maintain. The Super Hornets are bigger and slower, but have better range, better payload, and years of experience working around the problem of being a sub-optimal fighter.

      The F-35 is a lowest-common-denominator compromise to built a STOVL fighter, but the carrier and conventional variants get stuck with many of the design compromises, which will put it at a disadvantage against any fighters (or bombers) which did not have to compromise their designs.

  9. Would rather see a work like this from someone that has the credibility to talk about the actual capabilities of the system rather than an academic lecture on the importance of a technology that in sure we am an all agree on. In other words, find me an F-35 pilot convert and not an IWO who has made no indication that he has flown combat aircraft.

  10. An interesting article read here in the UK where decisions on variant and numbers are still in the “Austerity Melting Pot” of national finances. There is talk of joint maintenance with Italy and other European operators of F35 but my biggest concern is that fifth generation aircraft are completely technology driven and there is little scope for “engineering”. In a conversation with the curators of an aircraft museum I came to realise that whilst we can keep WW2 and early Cold War aircraft flying that will not be the case with later generations because of their digital complexity and total reliance on technology. That is a sobering thought as defence budgets are cut in the West and increasing in Russia, China and elsewhere. This year the Russian Navy will commission 40 new vessels – the UK none. It’s much the same around the rest of NATO and if the F35 is to succeed it must be available in numbers sufficient to match the need of Day One of any future war because with the 15 – 20 year lead times we won’t be able to replace them on Day Two.

  11. I find the idea that the fragile F35 will be able to replace the A-10 in ground support role absurd. Add to this flake off stealth coating ,a gun that won’t fire , a pilot helmet with problems,underpowered, out run and out fought by even legacy airframes and you see we have problems with the thing. Buy SAAB Gripen Next Generation or Advanced Super Hornet!

  12. the only valid point i read here in favor of the f35 is it’s longer range detection/targeting if used in combination with the navy vstol configuration might be a replacement for awacs planes to support real interceptor fighters and attack bombers while being able to defend itself
    to some extent.
    few will really believe that this plane will cost no more than a super hornet or a newer version of the f15 but it may cost less than an awacs
    or other elint planes, in which case we can consider a plane for plane replacement as controllers for carrier squads of f14 super hornets
    but i refuse to accept the claims that a multirole fighter/bomber/and now awacs is even remotely capable of replacing an A10 or F15.
    5th generation Fire Beyond Visual Range is an enormous pink elephant i give not a crap what exercise results favored the BVR -since when do our pilots release long range missiles against aircraft not been visually confirmed as hostile? knowing the failure rate of missiles only supports
    this issue even in an all out WW3 scenario.
    in that event it’s going nuclear anyway-which means submarine
    and B2 borne launches

  13. Let’s see. A multi-role aircraft that can be used by more than on service branch. Hasn’t the U.S experienced this wonderful concept before and if memory serves me right, it didn’t work well. The AF retained the aircraft and the Navy junked the aircraft. Oh yes my memory is coming back. Yes that’s right the F-111. Could it be that we do not learn from previous negative experiences?

  14. Dave, thanks for the link and all – but back up a bit there Shipmate. That link is a silly non-sequitur. Hugs and kisses and all, but what “ideology” is there with F-35 pro or con when the program has been supported by the left and the right from the soft-socialist to the rabid-neocon over two Democrat and one Republican administration? Disagreements, sure – but I think it is a stretch to put ideology on any of it. Back to the topic though, where have I ever, “relish(ed) trashing the F-35.” Just the opposite statements from me exist, written on the blog and in my own voice on multiple Midrats episodes. Goodness knows there is plenty of stuff out there by me to throw poo at, but the F-35 ain’t one. Again, appreciate the link and all … but head out to 10-DME and reattempt the approach.

    Now, “relished trashing the LCS?” Guilty of charged.

    1. Hey there. As I told Bryan, that was a referential link referring to Fallows, and using your post as the reference — it wasn’t meant to refer to you.

  15. Hey Shipmate. How about getting in touch with me (CIMSEC buddies will let you know how) to tell me why my Information Dissemination piece on James Fallows is linked to in this otherwise solid piece of yours on the F-35. I have no problem with you characterizing it as an ideological axe, but I have no clue how or why it is pertinent to your argument. Especially given my own support for this program elsewhere.

    Bryan McGrath

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