The F-35 is a $400 billion program to replace the current fleet of U.S. fighter planes for the Army, Air Force and Navy.
The program has serious problems.
Yesterday was an example. Two F-35s were set to arrive in the early afternoon in Israel – the first delivered outside the United States.
Everyone seemed excited at first. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was there to praise the new fighters. Israel’s top officials had also gathered to greet the $100 million (each) planes.
“There’s no better symbol of the US commitment to Israel’s security that the F-35, the most capable aircraft in the skies,” Carter declared.
The excitement was palpable, as witness this Defense Department tweet:
#SecDef: F-35s will help U.S. and Israel air forces operate more jointly and more effectively. Together, we will dominate the skies.
“The plane! The plane!’ was the clarion shout most of yesterday afternoon, as all eyes scanned the sky.
However, in a stopover, the two planes sat on a runway in Italy for six hours. It was foggy in Italy, according to officials. “Dominate the skies” apparently doesn’t include bad weather. A U.S. official said this grounding was done to protect the pilots from injury.
The postponement was announced minutes before President-elect Donald Trump sent a tweet slamming the F-35.
“The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th,” Trump tweeted. (January 20 is U.S. Inauguration Day.)
The jet’s development has suffered one after another delay or cost overrun. Arizona Republican John McCain, labeled the development of the weapons system a “scandal and a tragedy.” He is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Israel’s decision to buy 50 of the planes cheered the jet’s backers, who have endured their share of sad news about the F-35. For example, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau recently decided to purchase older and cheaper ($69 million) model F/A-18s instead of the F-35. The older F-18 is an all-weather plane and Canada is known for fog, rain and snow.
While Israel is receiving the US Air Force’s version of the jet, it will make its own hardware and software modifications. The jet comes after the countries signed a ten-year security aid memorandum. All $38 billion of that aid will be paid directly to American contractors for military items destined for Israel.
Israel is gambling by getting the planes now. The F-35 is still under development and will not even have a functioning cannon until 2019. That means if it does need to engage in combat, its forward cannon – needed for dogfights – will not be usable.
In March, The Guardian newspaper reported that the F-35 radar stops working mid-flight and only goes back on if the pilot turns it off and then on again.
There have also been weight issues, software bugs, cyber vulnerabilities, as well as other challenges.
Yesterday reminds me of a “Fantasy Island” episode, only now with Benjamin Netanyahu replacing Ricardo Montalban, and Ashton Carter playing Tattoo.
To put this $400 billion airplane program into perspective:
If we loaded a Silverado with a ton of silver dollars – each coin weighing one ounce – to reach $400 billion in silver dollars would require as many Silverado one-ton-load trucks, parked end-to-end, to circle the earth nearly twice. Total weight of coins = 12,500,000 tons. Total trucks = also 12,500,000. Distance around the earth = 24,901 miles.