Kelly McParland: Good news, the Americans hate the F-35 too (The Jet that Ate the Pentagon)

National Post

Kelly McParland: Good news, the Americans hate the F-35 too

April 30, 2012

Kelly McParland

f35 the jet that ate the pentagon

The U.S. hates the F-35, too. Doesn’t that make you feel better?

Still uncertain whether the F-35 is a good idea?

Good news: Foreign Policy magazine may solve the dilemma for you. The Washington-based magazine demonstrates that Canadian opponents aren’t alone in thinking the “fifth generation fighter” (which sounds significant but really only means there were four earlier ones, kind of like owning a “fifth generation Oldsmobile”) is a disaster waiting to happen. In “The Jet that Ate the Pentagon” it pretty much dismembers the argument for the plane, largely on the basis that it will be insanely expensive (even more insanely than the costs known at present, and which the federal government sought valiantly to disguise by letting Defence Minister Peter MacKay be in charge). And besides the expense, it says, the planes don’t work very well, and aren’t likely to.

Here’s a taste of the snowballing expense:

Overall, the program’s cost has grown75 percent from its original 2001 estimate of $226.5 billion — and that was for a larger buy of 2,866 aircraft.

Hundreds of F-35s will be built before 2019, when initial testing is complete. The additional cost to engineer modifications to fix the inevitable deficiencies that will be uncovered is unknown, but it is sure to exceed the $534 million already known from tests so far. The total program unit cost for each individual F-35, now at $161 million, is only a temporary plateau. Expect yet another increase in early 2013, when a new round of budget restrictions is sure to hit the Pentagon, and the F-35 will take more hits in the form of reducing the numbers to be bought, thereby increasing the unit cost of each plane.

A final note on expense: The F-35 will actually cost multiples of the $395.7 billion cited above. That is the current estimate only to acquire it, not the full life-cycle cost to operate it. The current appraisal for operations and support is $1.1 trillion — making for a grand total of $1.5 trillion, or more than the annual GDP of Spain.

And that’s only so far. It’s based on predictions the F-35 will be 42% more expensive to operate than the F-16. But the F-22, a less complicated “fifth generation” aircraft proved to be 300% more expensive. Besides, says the magazine, thanks to layer on layer of additional requirements added by the Clinton administration in the early days of planning and design, the F-35 has become a cumbersome “flying piano” that has little chance of ever achieving the impossible standards set for it.

The bottom line: The F-35 is not the wonder its advocates claim. It is a gigantic performance disappointment, and in some respects a step backward. The problems, integral to the design, cannot be fixed without starting from a clean sheet of paper.

Even if nothing else goes wrong, the F-35 would account for 38% of Pentagon procurement for defense programs, according to Foreign Policy, and this at a time the Pentagon faces serious cuts to bring U.S. budget spending back to something resembling sanity.

See, doesn’t that make you feel better? The Americans hate it too.

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