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Time to junk the Junk Strike Fighter

The engine of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (AKA the Jet that Ate the Pentagon Budget) suffered a “catastrophic failure” recently, according to the Commander of Naval Air Systems Command, quoted by AOL Defense. A low pressure turbine of the F-35’s single jet engine cracked. This could potentially destroy the engine itself and bring the F-35 down.

This is not a mere design flaw, dozens of which are uncovered during an aircraft’s test phase (which is normal for any aircraft). This is a catastrophic defect which could bring the entire F-35 fleet down.

This comes on top of all design flaws uncovered in the F-35 so far – a plane that will not enter service until the end of this decade, has completed only 25% of its flight testing, and costs $200 mn per copy (and will cost $1 trillion over the next 50 years, i.e. $20 bn per year, to maintain).

Considering that the DOD’s budget is to get hit by sequestration in just a few days, this is something the DOD can ill afford.

It is time to put the F-35 out of its misery. Not only is it a badly flawed airplane, but it’s also totally unsuited to any one and every one of America’s current and future military aviation needs:

  • Air superiority, whether as national air defense or in hostile airspace, will require a large, twin-engined, super-agile air superiority fighter with superlative kinematic and aerodynamic performance, a superlative radar, and a respectable weapons payload. Stealth will be a huge plus. E.g. the F-15, F-22.
  • Long range strike (which will be the most frequent mission, given that in-theater airbases will come under enemy missile and air attack) will require a very stealthy, nigh-undetectable, very survivable, long-ranged bomber with a large payload. E.g. the B-2 and the Next Generation Bomber.
  • Tactical strike in contested airspace will require an aircraft with the same attributes minus the range and large payload. E.g. the X-47, the F-22 and the proposed FB-22.
  • Tactical strike and close air support in benign (non-contested) airspace will require a cheap, simple, rugged aircraft with a short runway requirement, low operational costs, a respectable payload, and the ability to take on a lot of punishment. E.g. the F-111, the F-15E, the F-16 and (for CAS) the A-10.

Against each one of these needs, the F-35 is an utter failure.

  • The F-35 is too sluggish (it has a wing loading ratio of 526 kg/sq m!), too slow, too UNmaneuverable, too short-ranged, and too under-engined (it has only one engine) to be a true player in air superiority. And internally, it can carry only 4 air to air missiles, while the F-22 can carry 8.
  • The F-35’s combat radius and tiny payload in its bomb bay make it utterly impossible to classify or treat it as a bomber, and its “economy stealth” design means that it cannot survive in any airspace defended by the S-300, S-400, S-500, or HQ-9 air defense systems, or where multiple point-defense systems such as the Tor-M1 or Pantsir-S1 are present. It can also be easily detected by VHF and UHF radars.
  • The F-35 is not stealthy enough to survive in contested airspace and thus useless for tactical strike (see above).
  • The F-35 is too expensive and overbuilt for missions against primitive opponents like the Taleban, and due to the CTOL (USAF) variant’s long runway requirements, it can use only a very limited number of bases.

The F-35, in addition to being unsurvivable, unaffordable, underarmed, underranged, underengined, understealthed, and too slow and sluggish, is redundant. There is nothing it can do that cannot be done better by true air superiority fighters (such as the F-15 and the F-22) against enemy fighters, the F-22 and the X-47 drone in the tactical strike domain in contested airspace, or by any legacy aircraft in benign airspace.

As for the most important mission – long range strike – the F-35 is a nonplayer here, as is every aircraft other than the B-2 and the NGB.

So what should the US military do?

The Marines might want to retain the F-35B, but they should preferrably resume Harrier production and develop a Super Harrier.

The Navy should bail out of the F-35 program immediately, zero-time and structurally strengthen its Hornets, order some Super Hornets for the short term, and, for the long term, develop and procure the F/A-XX unmanned 6th generation fighter.

The Air Force

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