The F-35 has been frequently maligned as an expensive, unneeded fightertype, usually by totally ignorant people who don’t know what they’re talking about – and the criticism it receives says more about the critics than the fightertype itself.
A case in point is a recent garbage blogpost written by Ben Freeman of the extremely liberal, anti-defense Project On Government Oversight (POGO) organization, whose favorite target is the US military, especially its weapon programs. Like other liberal groups, POGO essentially wants the US military to be armed with muskets rather than modern weaponry.
And his garbage blogpost is an excellent example of that. In it, he wrongly smears the F-35 as an unaffordable fighter and makes, basically, two false claims about it.
Firstly, he falsely claims that the F-35 program’s cost will be $1.5 trillion over its lifetime, which he calls “staggering”. Assuming even that thefigure is correct (it isn’t, it’s a mere projection of what the program will cost over its lifetime under very high inflation assumptions, which means assuming that the dollar’s value will erode greatly over the next several decades), two things need to be pointed out. Number one, that figure refers to the TOTAL cost of the program, i.e. the total cost of developing, procuring, and then operating 2,443 fighters over 40 years (yes, their lifespan is planned to be at least that long). The cost of operating ANY large fleet of aircraft – let alone 2,443 – will inevitably be large, and of course, the cost of operating 2,443 aircraft over a timespan of 40+ years will also be high. That would be unavoidable with ANY type of aircraft – let alone with a fleet as large as 2,443 planes roaming the air for over 40 years!
Secondly, and perhaps most ridiculously, he falsely claims that the Super Bug (which is essentially a facelifted Hornet, a fighter that first flew in 1978) is an “alternative” to the F-35:
“There is an alternative, however – the FA-18 E/F Super Hornet. (…)
While the Super Hornets lack the F-35’s stealth, the U.S. military does not need this capability on all of its planes—the Air Force has stealthy F-22 fighters, and its own variant of the F-35, as well as the B-2 stealth bomber and a planned new long-range bomber, not to mention the possibility of stealthy drones.
Otherwise, Super Hornets have many capabilities that rival the F-35. The Super Hornet, unlike the F-35, is proven, and has “established an extraordinary record in operations around the globe, in combat, under all kinds of conditions,” according to Admiral John Harvey, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command. And, despite the recent crash in Virginia Beach, the planes mishap rate is, “as low as it’s ever been in naval aviation,” according to Rear Admiral Ted Branch, commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic.”
That’s utter garbage. The Super Hornet is NOT an alternative to, or even a substitute for, the F-35. It’s an obsolete, unsurvivable, useless, antiquated fighterplane dating back to the 1970s. It is not stealthy and has a large radar signature (and contrary to Freeman’s claims, the military needs as many of its planes, including Naval and Marine fighters, to be stealthy), which makes it an easy target for any idiot with a Strela or Igla MANPADS or a Buk, Tunguska, Pantsir, S-300, S-400, HQ-9, or HQ-16 SAM. It is also decisively inferior to all 4th, generation#4+, and 5th generation fighters flown by America’s potential adversaries, including all Flanker variants, J-10s, JF-17s, JH-7s, MiG-29s, MiG-31 interceptors, PAKFAs, and J-20s (the latter two representing the 5th generation and being stealthy).
Denying the Navy and the Marines the F-35 would mean relegating these two services to COIN-style operations in benign airspace over primitive COIN theaters where the only opponent is an insurgency unable to contest control of the air. It would mean making the Navy and the Marines useless for theaters where the opponent is a nation with advanced SAM systems and/or fighters, including China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and anyone else that the Russians or the Chinese supply with their newest weapons. (Iran reportedly operates Su-30s.)
It would also mean making the Navy unable to defend its own carriers and carrier groups against air attack, because, as proven above, the Super Hornet is inferior to all 4th, generation#4+, and 5th generation fighters flown by America’s potential adversaries, making it an easy target whenever those adversary aircraft are present. Suppose that the Chinese or the Russians decide to attack the carrier group with Flankers, J-10s, J-20s, or PAKFAs, or to use them to escort their anti-ship-cruise-missile-carrying aircraft (such as H-6s, Tu-95s/142s, or Flankers). Super Hornets will be utterly unable to defend their own CBG against such attacks, and with their pathetically short combat radius, probably unable to even fly to their opponents, depending on how far the Chinese or the Russians would attack the CBG from (don’t delude yourself that they wouldn’t do this, their aggressive foreign policies towards the US offer abundant evidence of their aggressive schemes.)
Moreover, the Super Hornet has a much shorter range, operational radius, and endurance, and an inferior radar. And yet, these attributes are extremely important for aircraft and will become even more crucial in the future. Furthermore, the Super Hornet doesn’t have an STOVL propulsion system (which the F-35B does), which is absolutely necessary for the USMC.
Only a total idiot, or a totally ignorant person, could claim that the Navy and the Marines don’t need the F-35 or stealthy fighters in general.
Spending money on such useless, unsurvivable aircraft would be a REAL waste of money (not to mention a huge disservice and dishonor to Naval Aviators), unlike investments in a truly survivable fighter.
And since Freeman likes to quote Navy admirals, I’ll quote two retired three-star Naval Aviators. LTG Emerson Gardner (USMC, ret.), who last served as the principal deputy director of the DOD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office, says this of any cut or cancellation of the F-35 (or even its carrier variant):
“That’s very dangerous for the carrier because it makes the carrier irrelevant. They are not going to have first-day capability. I’m absolutely convinced that if you do not have stealth by the year 2022 to 2025 you will be irrelevant.”
Did you get that? If the F-35C is cut (let alone cancelled), the Navy’s Carrier Air Wings MUST have stealthy fighters by 2022, or they will become irrelevant.
“There are options to increase the F-35C’s range, persistence and stealth, Gardner says.
The F-35C would give the USN the volume it needs to recapitalize its tactical fighter force and keep it relevant against future threats, says Gardner-himself a former naval aviator. It would also allow the navy to recapitalize its tactical aviation fleet before the bill comes due to pay for a new USN ballistic missile submarine in the 2020s.
The F-35, Gardner says, is superior to any potential threat for the foreseeable future.”
Retired USMC LTG George Trautman agrees:
“What I predict will happen is that when the F-35C starts flying, they’re going to fall in love with it,” he says. “They’re going to realize that it’s so much better than the Super Hornet that they’re going to want more of them.””
See? The F-35 is “so much better than the Super Hornet that [Navy guys] are going to want more of them.” Those are the words of retired three-star Naval Aviators, guys who know this subject much better than I or Freeman ever will. GEN James Amos, the USMC’s Commandant, who is also a Naval Aviator, and GEN Norton Schwartz, USAF Chief of Staff, also concur fully. As do three Presidents (Clinton, Bush, Obama) and five SECDEFs from both parties (Perry, Cohen, Rumsfeld, Gates, Panetta) and all JCS Chairman, USAF Chiefs of Staff, and USMC Commandants from the F-35 program’s inception to present.
What about America’s allies’ opinion? F-35s have already been ordered by 8 foreign customers (Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Israel, Turkey) and may receive further orders. Super Hornets have been ordered only by one country (Australia), and even for it they are meant as stopgap aircraft before F-35s join the RAAF’s inventory.
The Super Bug is highly unlikely to be ordered by anyone else. America’s allies know it’s unsurvivable, obsolete, antiquated, and useless for anything other than COIN operations. They don’t need such aircraft.
Neither does America. Time to stop wasting money on them and deluding oneself that the Super Bug is an alternative to the F-35. It is not.