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David Axe, editor of the well-regarded online warfighting journal War is Boring, has obtained an unclassified but internal five-page brief from a former F-35 Joint Strike Fighter test pilot. The unnamed pilot blasts the military’s latest and “greatest” jet fighter’s ability to do, well, anything:
The F-35 jockey tried to target the F-16 with the stealth jet’s 25-millimeter cannon, but the smaller F-16 easily dodged. “Instead of catching the bandit off-guard by rapidly pull aft to achieve lead, the nose rate was slow, allowing him to easily time his jink prior to a gun solution,” the JSF pilot complained.
And when the pilot of the F-16 turned the tables on the F-35, maneuvering to put the stealth plane in his own gunsight, the JSF jockey found he couldn’t maneuver out of the way, owing to a “lack of nose rate.”
The F-35 pilot came right out and said it — if you’re flying a JSF, there’s no point in trying to get into a sustained, close turning battle with another fighter. “There were not compelling reasons to fight in this region.” God help you if the enemy surprises you and you have no choice but to turn.
These results should come as no shock to anyone remotely familiar with past attempts to create a one-size-fits-all fighter for America’s military. Fifty years ago, Robert McNamara, John F. Kennedy’s Defense Secretary, decided to combine the Air Force’s requirement for a long-range strike aircraft with the Navy’s need for a fleet-defense interceptor. The results were … less than optimal:
Excessive weight plagued the F-111B throughout its development. During the congressional hearings for the aircraft, Vice Admiral Thomas F. Connolly, then Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare, responded to a question from Senator John C. Stennis as to whether a more powerful engine would cure the aircraft’s woes, saying, “There isn’t enough power in all Christendom to make that airplane what we want!”
Shockingly, when you design a plane around a compromise, you get a plane that’s good at nothing and bad at everything.
This is just more one tale of woe in long string of military procurement failures over the past ten years. The Future Combat System was put out of our misery in 2009, after the reality of Iraq and Afghanistan showed us that a heavy, well-armored combat force still had a vital role to play on today’s battlefield. The Littorral Combat Ship program has been dead in the water for years, with costs spiraling out of control and a mission that has yet to be defined. And the Army has spent decades deciding whether it wants to buy a new rifle or not, with millions of dollars spent on chasing an elusive dream.
Enough. It’s time for some sanity about how we buy weapons for our military, and only the Republicans are up to the task. Caspar Weinberger cancelled the Sgt. York anti-aircraft gun and the RAH-66 Comanche. The fact is, the military needs some tough love, and it has to come from someone who loves the military and wants it to stay strong, not from someone who can’t pronounce the word “corpsman” correctly, or can’t tell the difference between a Russian and an American ship.
Republicans need to show their commitment to fiscal sanity by demanding sanity from all branches of government — including the military.