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The Jehoshua Novels


The $1.5 Trillion "Flying Piano"

Winslow Wheeler rips into the nation’s largest mil-spec boondoggle and calls for the cancellation of the F-35 program: The Jet That Ate The Pentagon.

The F-35′s price tag has grown by 75% from 2001 and now stands at $395.7 billion, with another $1.1 trillion estimated as the future cost of operations and support. That massive total of $1.5 Trillion is more than the GDP of Spain and will account for a whopping 38% of of Pentagon procurement for defense programs. Yet while it looks wonderful it flys like an airborne piano, and will be worse in every role than the aircraft it is slated to replace.

But, folks, our bipartisan love for “ooh shiny” war toys and the military-industrial complex’s strangehold on our legislators means you’ll be giving up important parts of the nation’s welfare safety net to pay for this clunker that alone will cost more than China’s entire defense budget for a decade. That Wheeler is spot on won’t matter a jot.

11 comments to The $1.5 Trillion "Flying Piano"

  • yogi-one

    Mr. Gorbachov – put that Wall back up!

    We’re jonesing for the cold war arms race something awful!

    Bring back the good ol’ days when patriots were patriots and commies knew their place!

  • JustPlainDave

    …real, viable 5th generation fighter on offer. The development cycles are so long that if they cancel the program, it’ll be a decade before a new manned airframe is available. The existing interim aircraft (e.g., F-18 E/F) are pretty long in the tooth and don’t offer the significant advantages over competitors that folks have come to believe they need.

    Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” ~ Steve Jobs

  • Tina

    is convincing them to stop throwing good money after bad.

    Always keep an open mind and a compassionate heart. ~ Phil Jackson

  • JustPlainDave

    The question then is how one deals with the consequences of that.

    Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” ~ Steve Jobs

  • Tina

    if they kept spending money they still don’t have one. Shit or get off the pot as they say.

    Always keep an open mind and a compassionate heart. ~ Phil Jackson

  • Lex

    Fine, they need a new aircraft. It costs money. Understood. However, the procurement procedure is absolutely corrupt. Cost plus contracts in the land of “free markets”? Obscene maintenance contracts and all the rest? The problem isn’t necessarily the production of a new aircraft so much as the National Security Socialism context it occurs within.

    Also, do the planner really envision a future conflict with relatively equal air power to air power scenarios? We haven’t picked a fight with anyone who has an airforce since what, Korea? …and that’s a stretch.

  • JustPlainDave

    …this late in the game either (technically I think they may have switched away from cost-plus contracting recently – I recall some talk about it but don’t know whether anything came of it). There is a place for them, but I don’t think that place is when one is getting to production contracts unless there’s something really unusual.

    Maintenance costs, I don’t know. Question is whether the high operation and life cycle costs are justified by capabilities. I don’t know whether that’s the case and I do find myself wondering about alternative approaches like Spinney’s (lots of pretty cheap airframes that we put really good people in and use intelligently – accepting that we are going to lose some).

    The planners very, very much envision a future conflict where these capabilities are important. They’ve structured the force and the strategies to depend on things like low observability, super-cruise, etc. It is something of an open question whether they should be trying to do this with so few different types of airframes and whether there aren’t alternative strategies that aren’t so heavily invested in Buck Rogers airframes.

    Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” ~ Steve Jobs

  • JustPlainDave

    …get one and they guarantee that if we don’t, we won’t. Question is going to end up being whether we could have spent the same money and ended up with something else/elses that was better (better being defined along a number of potential dimensions like “sooner”, “with less risk”, “cheaper”, etc.).

    Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” ~ Steve Jobs

  • Lex

    I’m firmly in the camp that thinks war machinery should be as simple and robust as possible while performing its function. Any military force will lose some people in any conflict, no matter their technological sophistication. In the worst case, you end up with friendly fire or mechanical failure/accidents.

    I look at some of the maintenance needs relative to time in the field for modern equipment and wonder how effective these tools would be in war between relatively equal foes.

    No doubt the planners envision such conflicts. I still question whether they hold realistic visions.

  • Steve Hynd

    According to Wheeler, and I’m inclined to agree. The F-35 can’t outfly an F-16 or F-18, can’t out-STOVL a Harrier III nor carry anything close to the same payload, can’t out-stealth or out-cruise an F-22, can’t out-CAS an A-10 and can’t out-bomb an F-15. But they tried to make it do all these things. The always-dodgy theory that cost savings could be made by trying to shoehorn all those aircraft into one airframe which would be massively purchased for low unit costs is now comprehensively disproven, imho.

    The answer, also imho, is to hurredly re-up or start programs for other existing airframes to see where they can go (Super-Falcon, Super-Hornet & especially Growler, Superharrier, A-10) while buying more F-22s and possibly a slew of naval (STOBAR) Typhoon or Raphale. In the long term, we should realize that some specialization is needed. In particular, STOL capability rather than STOBAR (short take off but arrested recovery) is probably cost-prohibitive for long-cruise and bomber aircraft and stealth isn’t an all-mission panacea.

  • JustPlainDave

    …thing can or can’t outfly. All the stuff that I have seen has depended on some pretty generic metrics for comparison, without much in the way of specifics. I remember the F15 vs F16 vs F18 go ’rounds and which one was plainly “better”. The answer – as always – was “it depends”. Given the extreme dissimilarity, I’m pretty skeptical that folks on the outside can tell – heck even folks in the flight test program might well have incomplete answers. The nature of the business is making the other guy fight your fight and the answer as to which one is “better” largely depends on that.

    As to stopgap production (the Australian strategy), I’m not so sure how truly viable it is. My recollection is that the F16 and F18 lines are still open, though in fairly low rate production compared to the past, and that the AV-8 and A10 lines are long closed. Pretty much all of those airframes are near peers (at best) with many existing competitors – don’t have a good idea about Typhoon and Rafaele, but there really haven’t been a lot of orders – don’t know whether that’s politics or what.

    Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” ~ Steve Jobs

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