We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Monday, May 14. 2012
Hindsight is always 20/20.
The original concept was noble in its intent; a new fighter jet that would satisfy the needs of the Air Force, Navy and Marines. Better to develop one all-purpose fighter than have each branch go through the trouble and expense of manufacturing their own, right? And if one branch had a specific requirement, like the Navy needing stronger landing gear because of the stress put on the aircraft by carrier landings, then that could be taken care of after the fact.
Then they screwed the whole idea with the moronic notion that the newest, fastest, most brilliant state-of-the-art fighter in the world also had to serve as a helicopter.
Yes, you read that right.
For the first half of the story, watch this engaging Nova documentary on the battle between Boeing and Lockheed Martin over who would claim the prize. Both teams ran into serious delays, both teams overcame enormous hurdles, and both teams put together a truly awesome plane.
Both teams also deserve the Dunce of the Decade award for even considering such a preposterous notion that the fastest fighter jet in the world also had to serve as a friggin' chopper. If they had put their collective foot down and simply told the brass back in Washington "This is the stupidest idea we've ever heard of", maybe it would have dawned on someone that trying to make the fastest fighter jet in the world hover was the very definition of oxymoronic.
For your viewing pleasure: Battle of the X-Planes
Let's revisit a few lines from the documentary, shall we?
In other words, about $35 mil apiece.
Now, ten years later, for the second half of this story read this.
Hence the word 'debacle' in the post's title. Since we're dealing with the military, SNAFU would also work. In the past, when one branch of the service had a problem with one of its planes, at least the monetary damage was confined to just that one branch and plane.
Not so with the Joint Strike Fighter built by Lockheed Martin. From a goal of $35 mil apiece to — $162 mil and rising?
When they refer to the 'death spiral' up above...
But what no one predicted is that the date of the death spiral was going to arrive much sooner than expected. Ask yourself what aircraft did the damage in the last dozen headlines you've read that involved an aerial 'strike' against enemy combatants.
U.S. drone strike kills al-Qaeda chief in Yemen
The booming drone industry — dominated by Boeing — thanks you, Lockheed Martin.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
As an old business friend was fond of saying, synergy costs money.
Are you arguing we no longer need fighter planes Doc?
The examples you cite are simply drones hammering unsuspecting targets. Will they be as effective countering enemy air formations attacking our air or ground positions?
I don't know the answer. I can't competently evaluate techs I either know nothing about or don't know exist.
So we have to leave it to the 'experts". Do they haves biases? Yes. But I don't believe defense planners set out with FAIL in mind. I think those in charge believe their courses of action are the correct ones.
If fighters are still required, then I am of the opinion that they should be as technically advanced as possible. I want our pilots flying planes that are superior to anything else in the sky. I do know you can't win an armed conflict without dominating the air.
But the cost of these fighters is indeed unnerving.
Anyway, that's as far as my feeble thinking can take me this a.m.
Hey, bud, nice to hear from you. Been a while.
The question the documentary raised is, is the Joint Strike Fighter the last manned fighter we ever build? I suppose the point to be made is that enemy fighters are essentially worthless without coordination from the ground, so if the drones can take those guys out, you've pretty much enfeebled (to pick a word) their whole air force. And, despite their being based on a design that's almost half a century old, our F-16s and F-18s are still superior to any enemy aircraft in the sky, simply because of their sophisticated electronics packages and AWAC support. And then there's the F-22, which actually is state-of-the-art -- albeit pricey -- in case we actually need a manned fighter jet.
"I do know you can't win an armed conflict without dominating the air."
That's traditionally been true in the past, but is irrelevant when it comes to countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Albania, etc. Once our 'smart bombs' took out the ground stations during the Gulf War, the Iraqi Air Force became a footnote of history, and it's been all downhill for enemy air forces ever since. And when was the last time you read of an air strike in Afghanistan by an F-16 or F-18? I'm sure they have at some point, but they, too, appear to be on their way to being ushered into the dust bin of history.
If you haven't watched the documentary yet, do so. It's really interesting.
I will watch the vid tonight Doc.
No argument with re the countries you cite, but what about China?
What about an adversary that might be able to blind our drones?
As far as China goes, I presume they'll simply win the war electronically. They'll merely check the "Please collect all debts" box and we're toast. It's generally acknowledged that it's hard to support a war when your bank balance reads $-14,000,000,000.
As for blinding the drones, I haven't read anything on that. I suppose it could be done by emitting interference, but even that has a limited range and China's a big friggin' country, so you'd at least have to have an idea as to its flight path. One also supposes that they have built-in GPS, so the onboard computer program would read something like:
1. Follow ground control to target
2. If ground control lost, head directly for Beijing.
War has a way of making hard decisions simple. :)
Doc, you left 3 zeroes off of your $14 trillion. No matter.
I worked @ Lock-Mart for 30 years. They are past masters at cost overruns. The P-3 Orion subchaser was supposed to be upgraded to the P-4. LM won the contract by underbidding, then jacked the price up by $200 mil [that was a lot of loot back then]. The Navy finally told them to shove it, and the P-4 was never built.
Still, I favor having the world's strongest military. The minute we're second best, we are toast. And that is no exaggeration. The military is about the only government program that benefits all citizens equally. So naturally the administration wants to slash military spending. It's down 12% this year alone.
The only problem I see is the plain intent of the Obama administration to use drones against American citizens within the U.S. I do not understand why there are not howls of protest over this. Congress has just authorized it, and it is as plain as day that Obama would not hesitate to use the American military against U.S. citizens. But what else would you expect from a Communist?
“Why can’t we just buy one airplane and let the aviators take turns flying it?” Calvin Coolidge (the last conservative president).
There was a cute line in the documentary that I almost included in the post, then decided it was a bit flippant so I left it out.
"According to the 'death spiral' timeline, by 2054 we'll only be building one plane. The Air Force will use it during the day, the Navy gets it during the evening, and the Marines get to use it during the extra day in every leap year."
Calvin Coolidge (the last conservative president).
That Ronald Reagan -- what a poser!
In the words of my USAF test pilot father: "New dog, old fleas."
Every "new" aircraft is always more expensive than the last because of, if nothing else, inflation and capabilities. Then, the separate issues of development costs vs airframe costs.
Suppose Ford sinks $100M into designing the Mustang-X, the super car of the future. Ok, it works, and costs $15,000 each to manufacture. If they can sell them for $25K each, they need to sell 10,000 to break even on the development costs. But, if you only plan to make 100 of them, then you must sell them for $115,000 to break even!
The B-2 bomber suffered from this type of accounting. The unit cost for a Boeing 747-8 is around $330 Million, vs the airframe cost of a B2 of about $600M. But when you divide the development costs and additional lifetime operation and maintenance cost of the aircraft in as well, that's what puts up over $1 Billion.
The last aircraft to do well for all services was the F-4 Phantom. Excellent for it's time, but the distinct differences between, at a minimum, land and sea service, demands specialized aircraft. This is what happened with the F-16/F-17 flyoff. The F-16 barely beat the F-17, but the F-17 was so good for the Navy/Marine needs, it was refined into the F-18. Lemons to lemonade there, folks!
Restart the F-22 production and the unit cost will come down. The F-35 may also do well, but cheap doesn't win battles unless you have a ton of them. See Patton tank vs Tiger tank: 1v1 - Tiger. 3v1 - Patton.
You mean "Sherman" tank don't you?
And that kind of math was rather hard on the Sherman tank crews that went up against the Tiger.
It was more like 5-6 Shermans Vs. 1 Tiger. It was higher for the T-34's, more like 8-9 of 'em... seeing how the 34's gun wasn't much accurate and hitting power beyond 700m.
quality is good, but numbers will overcome quality by volume. German Tanks could routinely hit targets out to 2000m accurately with kills, but it was hard for Allied tanks (until late in the war) to get good (1200M+) range kills. Fell off, as the fighting became closer in built up areas of Europe and Germany proper - engagement ranges fell sharply...
I suppose that the military knows what other specific threats (apart from the F-22's price tag) these F-35s are being built to counter to achieve air dominance. given the increasing price tag, we should be told why the F-35 does this better than the F-22. could it be the higher model number? cooler name? looks better in promo movies?
having the best of everything but in ever decreasing numbers will bite someone in the ass when nonoperational losses, maintenance downtime, failures of $5 parts and geese strikes take their toll. then the best of all possible planes can't sortie because there aren't enough of them.
The F-22 is the air superiority fighter to replace the F-15. The F-35 was the "lower-cost" fighter/attack aircraft to replace the F-18/F-16/AV-8B - not the top-tier air-superiority aircraft.
F-22 has higher speed, range, ceiling, and payload. Probably better maneuverability with vectored thrust too. Both have supercruise capability. Don't know the differences in stealth capability, and would have to research the differences in avionics/ecm - but pretty sure I'd rather be in the F-22.
arcs - That's what the documentary said, although things might have changed over the years.
"we should be told why the F-35 does this better than the F-22."
It hovers. Because if there's one thing the Marines need in their jet fighter, it's the ability to land on a tennis court. Apparently, those big dual-engine helicopters are quite passe.
Also, the F-22 appears to be fairly frail, which is fine for Air Force use, but probably wouldn't stand up to the rigors of carrier use. As the documentary noted, while the landings are hard, so are the take-offs, and eventually carrier planes develop unfixable micro-cracks in the metal, so it pretty much has to be designed for Navy use from the get-go.
Maybe "travesty" would be the better word.
All I know is the list of drone strike headlines you provided would have been accomplished using primarily General Atomics airframes. And Lock-Mart Hellfires.
I glanced through three or four of the articles I listed and none of them mentioned the manufacturer. Although it doesn't really have anything to do with the post, I like being accurate, so I'll change the ending if you want to hunt down the info. If Lockheed Martin is responsible for many, if not most, of the current drones, then that's a real testament to their corporate leadership. While the F-35 is groping its way along, they invested in its biggest competition?
Uh-yup. Got a picture of it right here. A little heavy by today's standards, but had a great ground game.
Right - the F-111 was supposed to satisfy both the USAF and the Navy. It did neither and has gone to the boneyard. Billions spent that could have gone elsewhere. Bring on the fighter UAVs!
Correction - The original concept was to design an aircraft with at least one component built in every single Congressional district. The F35 is a smashing success by this criteria - despite being a really expensive piece of junk.
Ironic that F22's are now far cheaper per unit than the F35.
Also ironic that the latest F-15SE Silent Eagle can do absolutely everything better than the F35 except V/STOL at a fraction of the cost.
well, the DoD probably considered how the F-4 Phantom II was a successful aircraft in service with the USAF, USMC and USN, and the F4's designers would have been aware of how the supply and design problems resulting from the Imperial Japanese Army's and Navy's total failure to cooperate on aircraft design.
We don't seem to have a problem servicing the variety of aircraft we currently fly - actually far fewer than we did 20 tears ago. No more F14, F4, F111, A4, A6, A7, OV-10, or Stealth Fighter.
We could have just upgraded the F-15 SE for Air Force, Navy, and some Marine use. And designed a new V/STOL replacement for the Harrier.
You should note that the Russkies and the Chinese are building new fighters. Are they as good as ours? Are they better? Answer to both is maybe. That is not a comforting answer.
I think the F-35 is a bit of penis envy on the part of the Pentagon. The Russians have what is clearly the best air superiority fighter in current deployment in the SU-37 - which can do everything and do it perfectly. The F-35 is only trying to duplicate that success.
With respect to multi-role, multi-service aircraft, certainly the FU4 Corsair was both carrier based and land based in addition to being a very good in air-to-air combat and close quarters Marine air support. The Army Air Corps never had any though.
And you could make the argument for it's "cousin" the F-4 Phantom which was a true cross service aircraft used by the Air Force, Navy and Marines.
Multi-role fighters are great, but I'm not convinced that the multi-service role is the same.
"the SU-37 - which can do everything and do it perfectly"
It can't hover, so you're comparing apples and oranges. The SU-37 is properly compared to the F-22, and which is better is debatable.
The ability to hover and properly participate in dog fights is a relative feature. The SU-37 can "hover" in the sense that it can turn in it's own length do to vectored thrust and do some incredible combat maneuvers. And it will out fly the F-22.
Combat hovering is best left to helicopters, not fixed wing aircraft.
Maneuverability isn't going to win air battles. Electronics and stealth are the difference. The F35 is far less of a dog fighter than the F22. It will be a mediocre strike-fighter.
V/STOL aircraft are not helicopters. Two different missions. The Marines want a V/STOL aircraft so that they can get it to the forward edge of battle as possible and keep it there. The Harrier could land on a clear spot, be refueled and then returned to its close in air support mission. The AV-8 had the added bonus of being able to operate off anything that had a flat deck, such as an LHA or LHD. When you have fewer of the bigger bird farms, it is nice to have a baby flattop carrying the birds you need, configured the way you want them, already operating with your people. That being said, the F-35 should have been built for the Navy and the Air Force to share and a V/STOL mudfighter could have been built for the Marines as a totally different aircraft. As a bonus, the Army, bless their hearts, would have been happy to share it with the, if the Air Force would let them.
"In retrospect, it was an insanely stupid idea to begin with."
"And that's all I have to say about that".
You sure make blogging easy, Gar.
From now on, I'll just stick to topic sentences. :)
F-22 gets REALLY expensive when you need one and you ain't got it.
Besides, as a capital asset, every dollar spent on it goes into the GDP --and belongs there, reference my topic sentence.
Destroying the production line after all the R&D costs were sunk, right at the front end of the Payoff --the copy runs --is damn near treasonous, what with the rapidly-modernizing and expanding Russian and Chinese militaries.
In an economy needing high tech manufacturing, those F-22 jobs were scattered, after a mere hundred or so copies were built.
The thing can take off in central USA and fly to the mideast and back --yet AF has just moved our puny numbers to the Iran front --to sour old cynics like me, presumably so Obama can rid us of the few we DO have, MacArthur's filipino B-17s-style.
Like the Navy Colt (or was it a Peacemaker?) in Lonesome Dove, "better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it".
Lastly, items like F-22, in sufficient number, are precisely the items that prevent wars from starting in the first place.
We've forgotten what the months between Pearl Harbor and Midway felt like. And the hand of a higher power felt we were worth intervention, at Midway. Heck of a thing to bank on.
The plane just became a geopolitiocal fact for the mullah command --a fact making USA's opinion of them much more important to them. If perchance it stands down the nuke deployment, the savings in blood and treasure will be incalculable. Shutting down that line does not wait to be proven a huge false economy --it is already proven, in the geopolitical diplomatic/military reality.
Re SU-37 over F-22: Late in the 1967-70 War of Attrition between Araby/USSR and the IDF Air Force, the Russians sent over 150 of their latest, the MIG-21MF, with Russian pilots, in an effort to stop the deep-penetration F-4 Phantom reprisal raids by IDF.
The light, nimble MIG-21MF was a dedicated air-combat 'air-superiority' machine, on paper a far better dogfighter than the fast but heavy fighter-bomber F-4 Phantom. Five top Russian aces set up a duel between the new arrival MIGs and the ordinary F-4 unit covering the area selected.
The dogfight commenced, and all five Russian top aces in their new MIGs were shot down, with no losses to the IDF flight.
Soon, the Arab/Russian side agreed to a truce --which lasted until the Arab/Russian surprise attack now known as the 1973 Yom Kippur War.