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Only Spend America's Money on the Best, Not the F-35

Only Spend America's Money on the Best, Not the F-35
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By Wednesday, 03 July 2019 10:10 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The men and women in our military place their lives on the line every day to keep Americans safe. The least we can do in return is give them the most efficient and most effective tools so they can do their jobs safely and well.

The F-35 is not such a tool.

That’s unfortunate, because the F-35 jet, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), is a key weapon platform. So much so that the Trump administration and members of Congress are eager to buy more. Lawmakers recently released the National Defense Authorization Act, which: “Authorizes $10 billion to procure 94 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, an additional 16 aircraft above the administration’s request.” Yes, Congress wants to buy even more JSFs than the White House asked for.

Conservative writer Jonathan Last explains why the government is wedded to the JSF. “Because the F-35 was a bureaucratic winner,” he writes at The Bulwark. “It promised to fill multiple roles. It promised to be cheaper. And it promised to make nice with our allies by spreading costs with other nations. It promised to include the Brooklyn Bridge.” But as he observes, it fails to deliver on any of its promises.

For example, the industry publication Defense News has been reporting on the JSF, and finds that the program “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.”

Some flaws include the fact that pilots are required to fly more slowly than specifications would allow, because the jet’s frame or stealth coat may be damaged by high speeds. Cockpit pressures can spike unexpectedly. The plane can be difficult to land at night on an aircraft carrier (which it was supposedly designed to do). Defense News notes that these are “category 1 deficiencies — the designation given to major flaws that impact safety or mission effectiveness.”

But those aren’t the only problems that have cropped up with the JSF. The military has had problems just keeping it in the air. “The F-35 Joint Program Office temporarily has halted flight operations for a number of F-35s with higher flight hours after finding two new parts that will require inspection on older models of the jets,” Marine Corps Times reported last year. In April, Japan grounded its fleet of F-35s after a crash.

Even when there are no accidents, “A shortage of spare parts and difficulty managing and moving parts around the world kept the F-35 grounded 30 percent of the time during an eight-month period last year,” noted Stars and Stripes.

Meanwhile, a Government Accountability Office report found that only about a quarter of F-35s were fully combat ready during much of 2018. The GAO says there’s a risk that the “F-35 fleet may fall short of the capability needed to support its critical national defense missions in the future.” And the problems are expected to linger. “In its rush to cross the finish line, the (F-35 Joint Program Office) has made some decisions that are likely to affect aircraft performance and reliability and maintainability for years to come,” GAO said.

This isn’t really a solvable problem at this point. The JSF’s troubles date back to before it was born. The Pentagon and Lockheed decided to speed up the design and building process by using something called “concurrency,” so new planes were being built before the design was finalized or the existing planes had passed their flight tests. The plan was to upgrade planes at a later time. Now there are hundreds of planes in the air. A number of them will need upgrades. That will cause more downtime, and is currently putting pilots at risk.

During World War II, American fighters invented the term SNAFU, meaning (roughly) “Situation Normal, All Fouled Up.” The F-35 is a modern era SNAFU. It should be grounded, before it endangers our warriors.

Dr. Michael Busler, Ph.D., is a public policy analyst and a professor of finance at Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in finance and economics. He has written op-ed columns in major newspapers for more than 35 years.

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During World War II, American fighters invented the term SNAFU, meaning (roughly) “Situation Normal, All Fouled Up.” The F-35 is a modern era SNAFU. It should be grounded, before it endangers our warriors.
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Wednesday, 03 July 2019 10:10 AM
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