One of our regular features here at the shebeen is checking out the latest on the F-35, a.k.a. the money pit in the sky, a.k.a. The Flying Swiss Army Knife. (In addition, the president* may believe that it is actually invisible, like Wonder Woman's plane.) Usually, when we check in, we find that, once again, the project is beset with unforeseen gremlins, like the furry dude that Shatner sees on the wing in that episode of the Twilight Zone. Once again, the F-35 doesn't disappoint. From Defense News:
According to documents exclusively obtained by Defense News, the F-35 continues to be marred by flaws and glitches that, if left unfixed, could create risks to pilot safety and call into question the fighter jet’s ability to accomplish key parts of its mission: F-35B and F-35C pilots, compelled to observe limitations on airspeed to avoid damage to the F-35’s airframe or stealth coating. Cockpit pressure spikes that cause “excruciating” ear and sinus pain. Issues with the helmet-mounted display and night vision camera that contribute to the difficulty of landing the F-35C on an aircraft carrier.
To the untrained observer, "limitations on airspeed to avoid damage to the F-35's airframe" reads a lot like, "Don't fly this state-of-the-art warplane too fast or it will fall apart." And from this the untrained observer might also conclude that producing a state-of-the-art warplane that can't land on an aircraft carrier brings air power back to a point somewhere half-past the Sopwith Camel. The untrained observer might then conclude that this whole project is the equivalent of dumping the contents of 1,000 Brinks trucks on the National Mall and setting the bills on fire.
These problems impact far more operators than the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy customer base. Eleven countries - Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and the United Kingdom - have all selected the aircraft as their future fighter of choice, and nine partner nations have contributed funds to the development of the F-35. Taken together, these documents provide evidence that the F-35 program is still grappling with serious technical problems, even as it finds itself in a key transitional moment.
And the clock is ticking. By the end of 2019, Defense Department leaders are set to make a critical decision on whether to shut the door on the F-35’s development stage and move forward with full-rate production. During this period, the yearly production rate will skyrocket from the 91 jets manufactured by Lockheed Martin in 2018 to upward of 160 by 2023. Generally speaking, the department’s policy calls for all deficiencies to be closed before full-rate production starts. This is meant to cut down on expensive retrofits needed to bring existing planes to standard.
What are the odds that this policy will be adhered to in this case?
Nine out of 13 problems will likely either be corrected or downgraded to category 2 status before the Pentagon determines whether to start full-rate production, and two will be adjudicated in future software builds, Winter said. However, the F-35 program office has no intention of correcting two of the problems addressed in the documents, with the department opting to accept additional risk.
The rules of what Barney Frank used to call "military Keynesianism" are simple. Throw so much money into a project that, by the time anyone notices, it's too embarrassing to cancel the project generally, and too politically risky to cancel it for the politicians in the districts wherein the project is being assembled. Then, downgrade the problems, fudge the data, minimize the actual risks with bureaucratic gobbledegook, and then sell the luckless sonuvabitch around the world. To wit:
Winter maintains that none of the issues represent any serious or catastrophic risk to pilots, the mission or the F-35 airframe. After being contacted by Defense News, the program office created two designations of category 1 problems to highlight the difference between issues that would qualify as an emergency and others that are more minor in nature.
“CAT 1-As are loss of life, potential loss of life, loss of material aircraft. Those have to be adjudicated, have to be corrected within hours, days. We have no CAT 1-A deficiencies,” Winter said. Instead, the deficiencies on the books all fall under category 1B, which represents problems “that have a mission impact with a current workaround that’s acceptable to the war fighter with the knowledge that we will be able to correct that deficiency at some future time,” Winter added.
Lovely. Ask the folks at Boeing how that kind of process is working out for them these days.