First let me say that I am sorry that this is as long as it is, but it does need to be said.
Surprise Vice Admiral David J. Venlet Program Executive Officer F-35 Lightning II Program, had the task of giving the tax payers of the United States their Christmas Present early this year, unfortunately it is a sack of coal.
Admiral Venlet reported that major cracks and “hot spot” have been discovered in the aircraft airframe. The really down side of this is that airframes have not even flown anything close to the required service airframe life of 8000 flight hour. But, do not worry, because of this can be solved with nothing more than time and money, boy are we lucky, that we caught this before we spent a fortune on buying 2443 aircraft. The cost to fix these issues according to Admiral Venlet “sucks the wind out of your lungs”.
Not bad for an aircraft that according to former RAND analysis John Stillion “can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run”. Remind me of the remarks that Admiral Thomas F. Connolly made to the Hon. John C. Stennis (D. MS), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, when asked for his personal opinion as naval aviator, and test pilot if the TFX/F-111B was a fighter? After a pause Vice Admiral Connolly replied “With all due respect sir, there is not enough thrust in Christendom to make a carrier fighter out of this aircraft”. It should be noted that after Vice Admiral Connolly remarks the hearing was adjourned.
Is the JSF/F-35 the TFX/F-111B of the 21 first Century? Admiral Connolly remarks cost him his fourth star and ended his career, but enshrined him in the pantheon of Naval Aviation Heroes. Is Vice Admiral David J. Venlet made of the same timber?
Admiral Venlet at this time is only advising production of the F-35 be slowed until the problems can be ironed out, how nice. How about slowing the production to zero for eternity.
It appears that Vice Admiral David J. Venlet is not in the same league as Vice Admiral Thomas F. Connolly, to bad. Evidently sucking the wind out of your lungs has no effect on Admiral, especially as it applies to his duty to the service and for his shipmates now and those who will follow. Does the term RAMP STRIKE mean anything to the Vice Admiral?
Off course the fix will drive the weight of the airframe up, there by reducing the range, combat maneuverability, and useable payload of the weapon system. Another way of say it, is that it will not carry as much, will not carry it as far, and it will fly like the pig that it is quickly becoming.
This airframe problem goes back to the initial JSF fly off. The Lockheed Martin JSF candidate was built not to be Carrier ready when it was tested. This was a calculated risk by Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin won the JSF fly off. The McDonald Douglas/Boeing JSF candidate was built to Carrier ready when it was tested.
Given that Lockheed Martin aircraft was lighter (Not Carrier Capable) than McDonald Douglas/Boeing (Carrier Capable), and consequently due to it’s lower mass and mass moment arms was slightly quicker to accelerate, had slightly higher sustained turning rates, slightly quicker time to altitude, slightly high airspeed for given thrust setting, and slightly smaller wing surface area, everything that you would expect given that it was not dragging all that extra structure around that is needed for the more extreme forces encounter in carrier operations, it not surprising.
The real crime is that DOD accepted assurances from Lockheed Martin, that the Lockheed Martin naval version structure would be minimally heavier, but that even in this heavier configuration it would out perform the McDonald Douglas/Boeing JSF candidate, at least that is what their computer models told them. (Remember all models are wrong, some models are useful for a very limited set of conditions).
This delay is a train wreck for some of he other nations that have made commitments to purchase this aircraft, namely Canada and the United Kingdom.
Vice Admiral Venlet doubts that the F-35 program would be cancelled. I actual believe that it more of a hope than a doubt on the part of Vice Admiral Venlet. To Vice Admiral Venlet, no matter what we have spent to date on this project, as far as the accountants are concerned the cost are sunk cost, we the people of the United States will never recover a dime back on this weapon system.
Some have said that this particular program is “low hanging fruit” and that it should go is not surprising. If it is cancelled, it will not be the first program, several programs come to mind XB-70, A-12 Avenger II, F-111B (Naval Version F-111). The world did not end with the cancellation of these programs, and if the F-35 is cancelled the world will not end, no matter that the Mayan calendar stops in 2012.
The United States Air Force might want to continue the program for they are very uses to flying aircraft with cracks. The most notable USAF program being the C-141B, the work around was to limit the payload and aircraft CG limits, and to monitor the cracks. If the cracks got too big, the airframe took one last trip to 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Monthan AFB. Do not let the name fool you it is the Bone Yard, essentially the roach motel for old airframes.
USAF procedures allow aircraft with cracked structures to be operationally flown. USN procedures do not allow aircraft with cracked structures to be operationally flown. The FAA takes a very dim view of operating aircraft with cracked structures.
Just like the TFX program of the 60’s it is time to shut it down, take what we can from the program and field an aircraft or aircrafts that we can afford to purchase and to operate. Current estimates by the DOD suggest that F-35 will require 30 to 40 percent more maintenance hours per flight hour then the current systems (F-15E, F-16, F/A-18, and AV-8B).
There are other issues with the F-35 especially the naval version in that its spares storage area on the Aircraft Carriers is limited and this aircraft requires more volume per aircraft than the current aircraft. Delivery of some of the spare parts to the carrier is currently problematic (Engines) in that this cannot be performed by current UNREP and VERTREP systems, nor can these spares be brought aboard by the current COD system, with out some serious modifications of either spare parts or the delivery systems.
Off course this can be solved, it only takes time and money.
The cancellation of the F-35 will hurt the Marines in that they will not have an aircraft to replace their aging AV-8B. Except for the Marines, I not sure many experts will consider this to be a real issue. For many experts the AV-8B is not considered by many to be a successful weapon system. Its combat range (300 NM A/A 100 NM A/G) is limited, its payload was limited (A/G 3000 pounds), it is a complicated aircraft, and it required more maintenance then traditional fixed wing systems.
The AV-8B and Sea Harrier were derived from the Harrier. The Sea Harrier was successful in the Falkland campaign, but this was more of fluke in that the opposition aircraft were operating at the limits of the operational range. As a consequence of the short combat time and limited Anti-Radiation weapons (Shrikes) opposition aircraft could not perform much in the way of any type of SEAD mission. The Sea Harrier could stay on combat station 6 times longer (30 Minutes versus 5 Minutes) than the opposition aircraft.
The Sea Harriers accounted for 20 opposition aircrafts, 17 of the kills were solely credited to the AIM 9L. No public documentation exists on how many of the kills were head to head or head to tail, but given the operating conditions, and that the Blue Fox radar had no look down shoot down capability, I would suspect that many were head to tail in that the opposition aircraft had demonstrated that they could effectively use the local terrain to mask their entry into the combat box and attack with very little warning.
The AV-8B suffers from the same limitation as the Sea Harrier, but to slight lesser extent, but with a combat radius between 100 NM to 300 NM depending on mission, compared to other carrier based aviation assets the system has short legs. The comment by RAF Squadron Leader Steve Long “that over it existing aircraft (FRS.3 and FRG.9) the F-35 will give the RAF and Navy a quantum leap in airborne capability.” Given the British talent for understatement, on can only conclude that the FRS.3, FRG.9 and consequently the AV-8B are severely performance limited.
Do the Marines really need a replacement for the AV-8B, or should that mission also be retired when the airframes are retired? In a full-scale armed conflict where the Marines could be performing their primary mission, assaulting an enemy shore, will they be operating in solitary mode, or will the Marines be supported by USN and USAF assets?
It is time to stop the madness, and just put the program out of its misery. One size does not fit all; every attack aircraft does not have to be stealth. An aircraft that tries to be everything to every fighter/attack/strike/recon community, in the end becomes nothing to every fighter/attack/strike/recon community because it is just one big compromise, and it will be just enough of a compromise such that it will be marginal in performing all of its various assigned missions.
Given other movements in combat aviation, in particular the advancement in the various UCAV, would the funds being expended on the F-35 program get us more bang for the bucks if they were spent on the development and fielding of advanced capability UCAVs?
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan “Mr. Obama cancel this program” (“Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall”).