The Pentagon’s Emergency Plan If the F-35 Doesn’t Work
The United States government has sunk billions into the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The program is set to cost taxpayers almost $400 billion to develop and build 2,443 of the stealthy new jets for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
To ensure that the program is all but unkillable, Lockheed spread the work on the program around the country and around the globe. Indeed, the program brags about its economic impact. “In the U.S. alone, the F-35 program supports direct and indirect jobs for 129,000 people and provides work for more than 1,200 suppliers in 45 states and Puerto Rico,” reads Lockheed’s F-35 website. “The F-35 does more than just elevate international security—it also strengthens the global economy by providing jobs, industrial partnerships and technology benefits to people and companies across the world. In the years ahead, the F-35 program will create more jobs than any other Department of Defense initiative this decade.”
Well, that’s what’s really important, right? Meanwhile, back in the world in which fighters might actually sometimes be used–and useable–for their intended purpose…
Conventional wisdom says America has the best-equipped military in the world. But sometimes you have to wonder. Personnel from Marine Corp Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina recently went to a museum in search a part they needed to get one of their older F/A-18 Hornets flyable, according to a report this week from BreakingDefense.
The part in question was not on hand at Beaufort and is no longer manufactured. The Marines first went to check retired F/A-18s on display at MCAS Beaufort but didn’t find it. Then a Marine Lt. Colonel visiting the USS Yorktown (a retired aircraft carrier part of the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum) in nearby Charleston noted a similar vintage F/A-18A on deck and informed the Beaufort contingent about it.
“We got an email from the military asking if they could have the forward left nose landing gear door hinge from the F/A-18 on [the Yorktown’s] deck,” says Patriots Point spokesman Chris Hauff. “The Hornet, [Bureau no. 162435] is on loan to us from the National Naval Aviation Museum and they asked if the Marines could come out and take a look at it. They sent a team out here and removed the part, but it turns out they weren’t able to use it.”
Hauff says that the Museum has never had a request like this, but that they were happy to help. “Any way that our museum can help, we will.” That’s good to know. On the other hand, this story illustrates the state of Marine Corps aviation. The Marines fly some of the oldest fighter aircraft in the military thanks in part to their advocacy of the F-35. The service has forgone modernizing its Hornets and Harriers in order to save money for the F-35B, which can’t come soon enough.
Hats off to the Lt Col for his alertness, ingenuity, and initiative, at least. More from the BD article:
“Recently, I have heard first-hand from service members who have looked me in the eye and told of:
- “trying to cannibalize parts from a museum aircraft in order to get current aircraft ready to fly the overseas mission assigned (See above);
- getting aircraft that were sent to the boneyard in Arizona back and ready to fly missions;
- pilots flying well below the minimum number of hours required for minimal proficiency and flying fewer training hours than the adversaries they are being sent to meet;
- not having enough senior enlisted people to train and supervise younger ones and those who remain working very long hours day after day;
- service members buying basic supplies, like pens and cleaning supplies and paper towels out of their own pocket, because otherwise it would take three to four months to get them if they could get them at all.
And he hauled out the standard facts service leaders have told Congress for the last few years.
“Aviation units in the Marine Corps cannot meet training and mission requirements. With ‘less than one-third of Army forces at acceptable levels of readiness,’ the Army is ‘not at a level that is appropriate for what the American people would expect to defend them,’” Thornberry said. “‘Less than half [of the Air Force] combat forces are ready for… a high-end fight.’ It is the “smallest, oldest, and least ready [force] across the full-spectrum of operations in our history.’ This testimony across the Services is remarkably consistent, candid, and disturbing.”
How long will it take to fix this? Dunford offered this grim take. The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps will not repair, train and modernize at a fast enough rate until around fiscal 2020. What about the Air Force, the service that has essentially been at war since Kosovo, you ask? The Air Force won’t have high enough readiness levels to cope with a high end war until fiscal 2028.
I find that “BreakingDefense” title entirely too ironic for comfort in the days of our long, slow slip into national dotage and decrepitude. “How long will it take to fix this?” It won’t ever be fixed, unless we fix the nation first. And that’s going to mean breaking the current government–good, hard, and completely–and replacing it with a Constitutionally legitimate one first.
In other news elsewhere on the PM site, I can’t help but love this description of one of my all-time favorites:
In other words, we may never see another ugly, heavily-armored, twin-engined juggernaut that shoots bullets the size of Coke bottles while the pilot sits in a titanium bathtub. Which is really too bad.
It surely is.