mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
Up in the air
F-35s Make Their Debut in Europe

The Air Force’s beleaguered flagship fighter jet program will make its debut in Europe this weekend, Defense News reports:

The U.S. Air Force’s F-35A is deploying internationally for the first time this weekend, heading to Europe to conduct training exercises with NATO allies, the Pentagon announced Friday.

The Defense Department offered sparse details about the event, which will involve deploying a “small number” of F-35As from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to an undisclosed location in Europe.

The joint strike fighters will take off sometime this weekend. After landing, they will then spend several weeks in the region as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, the department’s effort to strengthen military ties with European allies to help deter Russian aggression on the continent.

The F-35 stealth jet program has had a long and troubled history, with much-publicized cost overruns, procurement woes, and design flaws creating the popular impression that the program was a white elephant. Even President Trump joined the pile-on in December, taking to Twitter to attack the “out of control” costs of the most expensive weapons program in the Pentagon’s history.

Lately, however, the critics have been eating crow. They said the F-35 would never fly—but today it is not only flying, it is making its debut as a factor in diplomacy. The European deployment certainly sends an unwelcome signal to Putin, as a host of advanced American fighter jets move to reassure European NATO members on his doorstep. And Russia will need to adjust to that reality in the long term, since the jets are expected to be permanently based in Europe beginning in the early 2020s.

Whatever the past problems and inefficiencies of the F-35 program—and there are many—the news that the fifth-generation fighters are finally getting off the ground and serving a strategic purpose should be welcomed.

Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • Andrew Allison

    The fact that this pig can fly doesn’t mean that it can fight (https://gizmodo.com/the-f-35-amazingly-has-even-more-problems-than-we-thoug-1791285476).

    • D4x

      Your gizmodo URL did not work. Was it about the custom pilot helmets that are delaying USNavy use of F35 for aircraft carriers?

      • Andrew Allison

        Google F-35 problems.

        • D4x

          No thanks. Been there done that. Once I read about Israel’s F-35 program, decided they could fix everything! Not really – the F35 exterior maintenance issues always remind me of those tiles falling off the Space Shuttle in 2003.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The Israelis have done some nice work with the F-35 so far, but they are not going to use it the same way that the USAF and USN (as well as the Marines) are planning to, which helps. They wanted some buy-in to stay abreast of the technology, little more.

          • D4x

            Good location for a repair depot. Helps the USA.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Actually the HMDS is preventing ALL of the F-35s, not just the carrier-based F-35Cs, from making full use of their capabilities. Without the HMDS, the DAS sensors (which let the pilot ‘see through’ the aircraft, thus compensating for the VERY poor situational awareness resulting from the bad canopy design) are of no use, the AIM-9X2 Sidewinder cannot be used properly (the AIM-9X is quite good, but the X2 version is far superior), and the pilot tends to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of displays that are necessary to fly the plane.

        Without the 3F software upgrade, the F-35 cannot use the vast majority of its weapons, and flies like a pig. There are several serious problems with the way the existing software overcontrols the behavior of the aircraft, making the plane even less manuverable than it already is.

        The F-35C (the carrier version) has serious problems with its tailhook, and the F-35B (the Marines VSTOL version) produces so much heat when it lands that it requires modifications of carrier decks, lest it burn through them. This latter problem also affects concrete runways as an added bonus.

        We haven’t even begun to discuss basic design flaws and serious logistical problems (its logistics management software has more bugs in it than an Indonesian rainforest), not to mention the horrific overall costs associated with this turkey. The Pentagon has been very clever rolling up the overruns into the program costs, thus making the most recent flyaway costs look artificially low, but that is just a question of “Hollywood Accounting”.

        Terrible program, should be scrapped outright.

        • Beauceron

          I was gonna ask if anyone had a link to how it’s actually been performing, aside from flying, which is a low bar for a fighter jet.

          Thanks.

          • f1b0nacc1

            My pleasure….as you might guess, this is something of a passion of mine…grin…

        • D4x

          TY. Well, on to more cheerful topics, …more bugs than … 🙂

      • Andrew Allison

        Corrected

  • Isaiah601

    I really hope this thing can really kill some people good. I wouldn’t mind having it tested in an actual combat situation. Maybe station a few somewhere in the Gulf…. Just in case…..

    • D4x

      Israel got their first F-35s in Dec, 2016, but do not believe they are yet operational. “… The F-35s that arrive here are basic aircraft. We need to integrate all these capabilities so have self-sufficiency with communications and electronic warfare. This is crucial for us to allow the networked connection with our four-generation force. …” Translation? IAF will not be relying on software downloads from the USA (I think), and Israel is building their own maintenance depot so their F-35s will never have to rely on USA maintenance.

      http://www.defensenews.com/articles/f-35-triggers-conceptual-overhaul-in-israel-air-force

      • Andrew Allison

        That’s pretty smart of them!

        • D4x

          More than two thousand years of Talmudic law encouraging brains over brawn paid off. Let’s leave the online version at that.

      • Isaiah601

        I’m sure Israelis are going to modify the system to suit their specific needs. I’m sure some of that modified tech will get back to US military and will be improved upon further. That’s what joint development leads to. Aways one step ahead.

    • Andrew Allison

      It might, if they ever get the guns working!

      • Isaiah601

        That’d be nice, although from what I understand the whole point of F-35 is that it just kills everything in its path miles before the target appears visible. I admit that I know very little. At the end, I don’t care how much it cost. That’s sunk costs, no use crying over spilled milk. Now all I care about is how good this thing can kill bad guys. Test it out against ISIS. Let’s drop some ordinance on people. Living in constant fear of being blown up will concentrate minds wonderfully.

        • f1b0nacc1

          The problem is that the costs associated with the F-35 are crowding out all other purchases, and not just tactical aircraft. There is little reason to believe that this turkey will even be AS GOOD as current fighters until at least 2020 (longer still if the 3F software upgrade doesn’t show up before then), and in the meantime our existing aircraft are rotting from a lack of spare parts and fuel for flight hours.

          Kill this misbegotten mess, buy F-18s, some jazzed F-15s (the F-15SA and the Silent Eagler are both nice choices) and take a long look at the F-16V upgrades. Until we straighten out our aircraft purchases (hopefully more F-22s (a B version is desperately needed), and perhaps some 6th generation options), move ahead with arsenal aircraft, which is where the future lies anyway.

          • Albert8184

            Na. Let’s buy them all.

          • f1b0nacc1

            If we had unlimited resources, perhaps that would be a viable concept, but we don’t, and it is not. In point of fact, this is precisely the problem that we face…the F-35 program (not simply the flyaway costs) is so expensive that it is draining away precious resources that we need for our existing aircraft, as well as useful replacements.

            Kill it now, with fire….

          • Albert8184

            Never happen. The F-35 is a work in progress, and it will be flying operationally for probably 70 plus years around the world. In the long run, it will work out.

          • f1b0nacc1

            A charming expression of faith, but other than LockMart’s promises and very poor comparisons to past aircraft, there is little reason to believe that this will be the case.

            I will offer a prediction, one that can be tested against reality. The F-35 will never exceed purchases of more than 60% of the current projected buys, and the aircraft that it is designed to replace will still be flying well into the 2035-45 timeframe. Further, both the Air Force and the Navy will in fact end up purchasing more of these older aircraft to make up the shortfall caused by the failure of the F-35 to live up to its hype. We will see evidence of this with in the next 5 years as foreign purchases are cancelled and the USN begins to scale back outyear procurement of the F-35C.

            There is nothing in an F-35 (unless you believe that Stealth conquers all, in which case I have a bridge to sell you) that cannot be added to new production of existing airframes without a great deal of difficulty. The F-35 already lacks capabilities available in existing airframes (the AIM-9X2, for example, or the far superior IRST capabilities available for the F-18), and provides is mediocre performance at vastly increased costs.

            Demonstrate how all of this will ‘work out’…no hand-waving….details.

          • Albert8184

            The F-35’s stealth is the least of it’s value. So that’s over with. You’ll be wrong on the F-35’s longevity, and yes… on the other hand, I’m quite sure the other airframes will be flying to mid-century too. That’s why I’m confident enough in American technology to predict the F-35 will be flying to nearly the end of this century.

            Demonstrate how it will all work out? Past history indicates I’m right. And past experience validates what I believe.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Really now? The past indicates that you are right? The closest comparison to the F-35 in the last 75 years was the F-111, and it utterly failed to replace all tactical aircraft, instead ending up as an EW platform and semi-strategic bomber. The Phantom II had better success as a fighter-bomber, but was sufficiently limited in quality that the F-15 and F-16 programs had to be accelerated to replace it for air superiority and the F-14 for fleet air defense. In point of fact, there are no examples of a single tactical aircraft, designed to replace all others ever being successful, particularly one with such a complex technological pedigree. You also ignore the parade of American tactical aircraft that didn’t succeed, and simply faded away soon after introduction. There is nothing magical about our aerospace industry, we have simply been rich enough to afford to eat our mistakes and move forward. So, I suspect, will be the case with the F-35

            You make some big predictions, but other than simply asserting it, you offer no reason to believe that any of this will happen. The history of the F-35 program thus far has been an uninterrupted history of late deliveries, underwhelming performance, and limited capabilities that give no reason for optimism. Show us the fruits of your massive expertise and give some specific examples of how this will happen, and why we should believe it…

            In other words, put up or shut up…likely though, you will do neither…

          • Albert8184

            Put up what? Your next month’s rent? Adios canned talking point man.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Rarely do I agree with the F-35 defenders, but they don’t need the gun. Now mind you I don’t like anything about the aircraft, but if you are going to build it, fix the HMDS, and then the AIM-9X2 will give you what you need. These planes are dead meat in a dogfight with or without a gun, so don’t tempt the pilots to get involved in one.

        • Albert8184

          The F-35 isn’t a dogfighter. Neither is the C-17.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Interesting example of goalpost-shifting…

            The F-35 was supposed to be able to handle this situation, but it clearly cannot, and even the plane’s defenders now admit this. As for there being ‘plenty of other aircraft’ that cannot dogfight, I should point out that they (unlike the F-35) aren’t designed to be ‘fighters’ (hence the “F” in the F-35’s designation), and thus shouldn’t have to dogfight.

            Finally, “if the F-35 finds itself in dogfights frequently, then the Air Force isn’t doing its job”, is rather amusing…I am sure that our friends in Russia and China will be happy to cooperate once they get that message. Seriously though, were I a Russian or Chinese general, I would be working overtime on trying to develop tactics to force just such circumstances upon us. The RAND study that was done a few years back showed that just such a scenario was entirely possible…

          • Albert8184

            No. I’ve never moved my goalpost. Maybe it doesn’t comport with yours, but so be it. The F-35 is not an air superiority fighter. It never was. The F-35 is not intended to replace the F-22 or F-15 in that regard.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Unless you believe that the F-15Cs (which are pure air superiority fighters, or where else do you think the phrase “not a pound for air to ground” comes from?) are going to soldier on into the 2040s (note: the Air Force doesn’t suggest this, and are already planning to eliminate these aircraft over the next 12 years), then yes indeed, the F-35 is in fact intended for Air Superiority. Same for the F-18s used by the Navy. The F-35 is supposed to replace essentially everything used by the USAF other than some specialty aircraft and the F-22, though a few F-16s and A-10s now look to survive as the F-35s manifest flaws become impossible to deny. Go read the original program documents.

            You may have operational experience with the Air Force, but it clearly doesn’t have much to do with operating fighters. Even the most optimistic USAF fanboys (and I used to be one) don’t pretend that air supremacy is an option these days, and the idea that we will simply dictate the terms of engagement to our opponents is either monumentally ignorant or equally arrogant, or likely both. The F-35 lacks sufficient range, is unable to provide adequate weapons loadouts without the 3F upgrades, and depends upon technologies that are already highly vulnerable to countermeasures for its vaunted superiority. The technology gap is only valuable when one can bring it to bear (ask the Germans in WWII about the problems associated with that), and the F-35 does not accomplish this on any level.

            Ah yes, the big picture….enlighten us as to how all of this works WITHOUT handwaving and appeals to authority…

          • Albert8184

            I have operational experience in the Air Force… and you have ??? High school ROTC?

          • f1b0nacc1

            And your operational experience is?….

            You make many assertions, how about providing some hard evidence to back them up?

            The F-35 has been the subject of a VERY aggressive sales campaign by LockMart and the USAF, the latter to not only drive exports but to lower the overall program costs by spreading them over a larger number of sales. Selling a lot of those proves little about the quality of the aircraft, and a great deal about the quality of the sales effort…

            If you don’t have better than spittle-flecked insults to offer, go away and leave the adults alone.

          • Albert8184

            I can’t leave the adults alone. The only adult in this… (I don’t like to use the word “conversation”)…. is me.

          • Jim__L

            Wasn’t F-35 supposed to be Air Superiority along with everything else?

            It’s no wonder the poor thing isn’t living up to expectations. Making a “joint” aircraft was never a good idea.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Spot on…the biggest problem was the foolishness of basing a VSTOL version on the same airframe, though it is hardly the only problem The USAF’s obsession with Stealth is another issue, and the lack of effective oversight on the software development for this turkey only made things worse.

          • Albert8184

            No. The F-35 is a multi-role fighter. Now… the fact that it’s an American built aircraft bestows upon it a certain superiority, but in the purest sense of the word it is not an air superiority fighter.

        • Andrew Allison

          You are correct, dammit ;<)} I should have written weapon systems.

  • Unelected Leader

    The F35 was not one but many concurrent programs, and some of them were/are revolutionary. Not a small order. Also, the number of attempts to steal info on the F35 and how hard Russian and Chinese state “media” critiqued it to try and turn public opinion against it = they are scared.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The F-35 will likely be the last manned fighter aircraft developed by America. I have always maintained that the criticism of the F-35 as a failure, was due to the ignorance of the critics of the developmental process. In this process prototypes are produced and tested until most of the bugs are worked out. Then limited production is initiated to put the new system in the field where more bugs are uncovered. Then Full production is initiated with the understanding that updates, fixes, and general fine tuning will occur for the life of the system.

    • Andrew Allison

      Gee, thanks. The question is when, if ever, will this $1 trillion pig achieve its mission and what else could we have got for the money.

      • Albert8184

        He contributed to increased understanding. YOU on the other hand, sound like the 99.9 percent ignorantly commenting on something you do not understand in the slightest.

        • Andrew Allison

          And you are clearly ignorant of the myriad problems with this crock. Read the comments below or do some homework.

          • Albert8184

            I’m clearly tired of people like you faking knowledge.

          • Andrew Allison
          • Albert8184

            Go back and reread the OP. That’s the point of this discussion. Not whether or not the F-35 is over-cost and problematic in development. This is a system that will probably serve at least 60 years around the world, and accumulate at least 10 variations up to the G or H models.

          • Fat_Man

            I am taking the under.

    • Albert8184

      At last! Someone with intelligence comments on this issue in the forums!

    • f1b0nacc1

      Given that the aircraft is already in full production, and that numerous serious flaws (many of which are mission kills) still exist, your assertion is clearly mistaken. The model for development that you describe is a good one, but that was precisely what did *NOT* happen with the F-35. The plane was approved, then rushed through an incomplete development and ordered into production while numerous serious deficiencies were still present. The fact that most of the its critical weapons cannot be used without the 3F software upgrade (and there is no firm date for when that will be ready), that it cannot make use of its designated short range AAM (the AIM-9X2) at this time, the serious and ongoing deficiencies in its integrated logistics system and mission planning software (the latter of which essentially prevents it from using its much-vaunted network-centric capabilities), the issues with the tail hook and other arrester gear for the F-35C, and the propensity of the F-35B to melt the surfaces that it lands upon (including the decks of its proposed carriers, something that is causing expensive refits through the amphib fleet, as well as limiting its ability to use any other platform that hasn’t been refitted) all point to a plane that is not ready for prime time. These problems require fixes that aren’t tweaks and fine tuning, but major changes that are extremely expensive and time-consuming, draining resources from other vital priorities.

      We keep hearing about the vast potential for this system, while the date at which that potential will be realized retreats further and further into the future, all the time vacuuming up money that is desperately needed elsewhere. The plane cannot dogfight, cannot make use of critical weapons, and has failed to demonstrate even a fraction of its purported capabilities in anything other than one highly scripted exercise. The outrageous cost (the true cost, not the cleverly doctored flyaway cost) is giving most of its customers second thoughts, even the US navy, which has (belatedly) begun to reconsider the viability of the F-35C buy, instead taking a renewed look at SuperSuper Hornets and UCAVs.

      As a great believer in ‘the miracle of competition’, I am surprised that you are a defending a program explicitly designed to remove this competition and settle on a monoculture in what is perhaps our most essential defense requirement.

  • Fat_Man

    Either that or the Russian pilots are waiting to shoot fish in a barrel.

    • f1b0nacc1

      While I am not carrying water for the F-35 (see my endless comments above), the Russians have their own problems. Their pilots are too busy praying that their engines don’t flame out when they turn, or that their missiles don’t self-detonate on their pylons to be sizing up the F-35…

  • LarryD

    One of the problems is the government always tries to build a Swiss army knife of a weapons platform, instead of two or three platforms optimized for their mission profiles.

  • Albert8184

    Eating crow won’t dissuade a lot of the critics, because they have a larger agenda. And they’re willing to take some losses to make it happen. The world of media PR is a strategic battlefield. And this is Walter Cronkite all over again.

  • Pete

    ” …. the news that the fifth-generation fighters are finally getting off the ground and serving a strategic purpose should be welcomed.”

    What’s to welcome, the bankrupting of America?????

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service