The turducken plane
I got a couple of different messages about the latest episode of the flying disaster-reality show that is the F-35 Joint Strike Flying Piano from my readers, so I figured I might as well write something about it (again).
And the latest news about the F-35 isn't just bad - it's CATASTROPHIC. It turns out that this utter turkey of a plane is so badly built and designed that its gun can't even shoot straight:
Add a gun that can’t shoot straight to the problems that dog Lockheed Martin Corp.’s $428 billion F-35 program, including more than 800 software flaws.
The 25mm gun on Air Force models of the Joint Strike Fighter has “unacceptable” accuracy in hitting ground targets and is mounted in housing that’s cracking, the Pentagon’s test office said in its latest assessment of the costliest U.S. weapons system.
The annual assessment by Robert Behler, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, doesn’t disclose any major new failings in the plane’s flying capabilities. But it flags a long list of issues that his office said should be resolved -- including 13 described as Category 1 “must-fix” items that affect safety or combat capability -- before the F-35’s upcoming $22 billion Block 4 phase.
The number of software deficiencies totaled 873 as of November, according to the report obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of its release as soon as Friday. That’s down from 917 in September 2018, when the jet entered the intense combat testing required before full production, including 15 Category 1 items. What was to be a year of testing has now been extended another year until at least October.
“Although the program office is working to fix deficiencies, new discoveries are still being made, resulting in only a minor decrease in the overall number” and leaving “many significant‘’ ones to address, the assessment said.
Sweet Jesus H. Christ on a floating bicycle. Settle in with a stiff drink, chaps, because carving up this turkey is going to take a while.
Actually, calling this shitheap a "turkey" is an unwarranted insult to a rather delicious and nutritious bird, which tastes particularly nice with cranberry sauce and giblet stuffing.
The F-35 is much more of a turducken - because it is actually (at least) three different birds in one airframe, and because of this, cannot perform ANY of its roles properly.
If you are not American and/or have never had the, uh, "privilege" of tasting turducken, don't worry, you have not missed out on anything in life. Turducken is produced by taking a deboned chicken and stuffing it into a deboned duck, and then stuffing that into a deboned turkey. This method of stuffing one bird into another and then another is supposed to produce delicious roasts, but I've never tried it and can't comment. It certainly doesn't sound terribly appealing to me.
From what I have heard, turducken is sometimes used in rural communities during times of high beef prices or shortages of bovine meats.
And that, again, is a pretty apt analogy for the F-35, because that is a fighter jet that totally lacks any sort of real beef.
Consider the original mission parameters of the Joint Strike Flying Piano. This plane is supposed to be:
A) A highly manoeuvrable air-supremacy dogfighter capable of operating from land bases or carriers;
B) A short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) ground-support attack aircraft with a big main gun;
C) A stealthy deep-strike and reconnaissance penetrator that can engage targets beyond visual range;
It was basically supposed to be an all-purpose plane capable of performing any role that the various military branches and allies needed.
The problem, of course, is that those above are three (technically four) entirely mutex requirements.
If you are going to build an air superiority fighter that can run circles around the competition, you need to build a very fast, highly agile fighter with a relatively low wing-load and a very high thrust-to-weight ratio.
In plain English, this means that the plane's wings should be large enough that they can generate a lot of lift to carry the plane easily, and the engine(s) should be powerful enough to the point where the thing will accelerate fast and move fast. The shape of the aircraft needs to be sleek, almost dagger-like, to cut through the air with as little drag as possible - that means a large triangular wing and a narrow body.
Generally speaking, you can build an aircraft like that in one of two ways.
Either you can put in one centrally mounted engine and build a sleek triangle-shaped body around it. This kind of jet is fast, cheap, and highly agile. But it doesn't have the kind of range or speed that allows for force projection over long distances.
Or you could build a bigger plane with two very powerful engines and a big swept-back wing, two tail fins, and very powerful avionics, radar, and targeting systems. These planes tend to be big, expensive, and extremely fast, with lots of range and power.
Here are a few examples of truly great dogfighters:
|McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15 Eagle|
|Sukhoi Su-27/35 "Flanker"|
|General Dynamics/Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcon|
|Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 "Fishbed"|
If you are going to build a V/STOL aircraft - which is a fairly idiotic idea to begin with, due to the extreme complexities of using a vertical lift system to blast exhaust fumes downwards - then you need a small wing and a wide body to accommodate the large and highly complicated engine required do the vertical lift stuff. A large wing makes vertical take-off nearly impossible because of the air resistance it creates when moving upward, so that is automatically ruled out.
But this immediately makes the airframe useless for high-speed agile dogfighting, because the design requirements for a dogfighter are virtually antithetical to those for a V/STOL aircraft.
There are not too many examples of V/STOL aircraft that actually worked under combat conditions. But they do exist. Here are a couple:
|USMC McDonnell Douglass AV-8B Harrier II|
|British Aerospace Sea Harrier|
|Yakovlev Yak-141 "Freestyle"|
If you are going to build a ground-support aircraft, then the absolute first thing you need is at least one really huge gun, because the purpose of such an aircraft is to perform close air support for infantry on the ground and wipe out armoured vehicles, enemy infantry, and artillery emplacements. That means that you need an aircraft that can fly close to the ground, and it HAS to fly slowly in order to pick out targets amid the ground clutter - you simply cannot perform close air support from 30,000 feet up. You have to get in "among the weeds", so to speak.
And you need an aircraft that can take off quite literally loaded for bear. It needs to have enormous amounts of ordnance strapped to it.
Because such an aircraft has to fly close to the ground, it MUST have a really big wide straight wing; the principles of aerodynamics, lift, and thrust, dictate that a low-speed aircraft flying low has to have a large wide wing for lift.
Of course, because the thing is flying close to the ground, it is an absolute peach of a target for ground troops and surface-to-air missile operators. So it had damned well better be armoured like a tank with multiple redundant systems.
Here are a few examples of truly legendary ground support aircraft that genuinely managed to perform this role:
|Sukhoi Su-25 "Frogfoot"|
|Douglas A-1 Skyraider|
|Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog"|
Finally, if you are going to build a stealthy high-speed penetrator and interceptor, then you really need something designed to reflect, absorb, and scatter radar waves across a fairly wide range of high-frequency bands used by modern radar systems. This dictates a fighter design with a lot of rounded or angular surfaces, "baffles" for the engines to scatter hot exhaust fumes and reduce the infrared signature, radar-absorbing materials and composites used across the entire airframe, and not one right-angle anywhere to be found on the body.
|Lockheed F-22 Raptor|
But actually, you can get even weirder in terms of design than that if you drop the requirement to carry weapons and simply want a hyper-fast intelligence-gathering aircraft:
|Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird|
(The Blackbird is, for my money, the single greatest aircraft ever built. Everything about it was innovative, bleeding-edge - literally, because the leading edges of the aircraft were so sharp that they could cut the hands of maintenance crews - and completely radical. It was a one-of-a-kind machine, and I fear we will never see anything like that again in our lifetimes.)
Now look at the F-35's airframe:
|Lockheed F-35 Lightning II|
And the reason why Uncle Sam's Misguided Children - God bless 'em! - insisted on that, is because they are, according to my sources, treated pretty much like redheaded stepchildren by the US Navy, upon whom the Marines depend to get them from place to place, by and large.
The Marines have their own assault carriers, but they are nowhere near as big and as powerful as the full nuclear-powered floating cities that the Navy uses - so the Marines need a ground-support aircraft that can take off with limited runway space. Helicopters are nowhere near versatile enough to do the job, which is why the Marines have their own air wing. The lack of real carrier power and size for the Marines has left them heavily reliant upon V/STOL and STOVL aircraft like the Harrier.
The lack of a cannon means that the guns have to be carried externally - but the lack of a big wing, and the presence of a massive engine, means that this thing is going to zip straight past enemy tanks without stopping. Because that engine is so damned thirsty, the plane isn't going to be able to stick around on the battlefield to support ground troops.
That's before we get to the fact that the 25mm four-barreled cannon on the F-35 is nowhere near as powerful as the A-10's gun, and the amount of ammo for all of the three versions of the turducken bird is tiny. No version of this abomination holds more than 220 rounds. The "ground support" version of this stupid thing is going to be out of cannon rounds in under 4 seconds of sustained fire - about three or four short bursts.
By comparison, the A-10's massive 30mm GAU-8 Avenger cannon - the damn thing is bigger than a Volkswagen Beetle, which is why the A-10 is one of the very few planes ever designed around a gun - has over 1,100 rounds and can blast apart tanks like tin cans all day long.
The F-35B version of the aircraft is also heavier than the F-35A variant, and is limited to less strenuous manoeuvres in combat - which, again, means it cannot dogfight well. And its internal weapons capacity is still tiny.
And, while the F-35B has not yet been really battle-tested against an enemy shooting back with a vengeance, I'm willing to bet good money that the stupid thing is extremely fragile. Just one missile shoved up its arse, or a few randomly-placed AAA rounds in its airframe, and I reckon it's down and gone - and that's $140 MILLION gone "POOF".
Furthermore, the exhaust blast from the F-35B's engine is so powerful and intense that it acts like a cutting torch on the surfaces of the carriers that it lands on. Which means that any USMC assault carrier that holds these things has to have reinforced deck plates just to let the damned things land.
This is a "stealthy" aircraft that isn't actually particularly stealthy. In fact, stealth in general is a huge scam. Stealth technology works great against UHF and XHF radars - but against merely VHF radars, like the kind used in the Battle of Britain nearly 80 years ago, modern "stealth" technology just doesn't work.
It is a little-known fact of stealth technology that the original inspiration for it came from a paper published by a Soviet mathematician. As narrated by Ben Rich in the superb book, Skunk Works - I've read it like 8 times in my life - a paper titled Method of Edge Waves in the Physical Theory of Diffraction by Pyotr Ufimtsev of the Moscow Institute of Radio Engineering, published in 1962, contained the seeds of stealth technology. That paper showed how shapes and materials could be used to deflect and scatter electromagnetic - which is to say, radar - waves.
It was Lockheed's brilliant engineers - and, credit where it's bloody well due, the engineers at Lockheed from the 1950s to the early 1990s ABSOLUTELY WERE brilliant - who figured out how to take those ideas and turn them into practical realities of aircraft design.
I'm not for a moment claiming that stealth is ineffective. It absolutely does work - that has been proven beyond any doubt whatsoever, repeatedly, and I have said as much many times. But the value of stealth has long since passed. The Russians and Chinese learned very quickly from the Serbs who shot down an F-117 20 years ago. The Serbs managed it by using old-school radars with long waves and relatively low frequencies. In the twenty years since, the Russians have developed some really superb mobile field radar detection installations that can be setup in about 45 minutes - and can detect every single "stealth" aircraft ever made.
Once you look at the F-35's supposed mission parameters, and compare the actual result with the designs of the aircraft that it is supposed to replace and/or compete against, the true enormity of the disaster behind this plane becomes readily apparent.
This flying brick cost America's economy OVER A TRILLION dollars. And it cannot do one single mission for which it was originally designed.
Actually, that is not quite true - because, as I have written before, and as Dawn Pine and I discussed in our recent podcast, the primary mission of this aircraft was, in fact, to spend money. Vast quantities of it. At speeds never seen before, in a programme that is now politically impossible to cancel.
And boy howdy is it succeeding in that mission.
Will this turducken ever actually perform ANY of its originally intended roles?
Well, actually... maybe.
It simply requires an almost complete overhaul of everything that is wrong with its software suite, avionics, radar, weapons systems, and stealth capabilities.
That is where our friends the Israelis come in.
The Israelis have bought a few of these flying shitcans. But unlike the Pentaloons who inhabit the Five-Sided Wind Tunnel, and unlike the Lockheed top brass, the Israelis actually need working aircraft that perform as expected.
So they've modified their versions so that they, y'know, work.
It so happens that there is good reason to question the report from March 2018 that two Israeli F-35s managed to fly all the way across Syria and into Iran, entirely undetected, to engage in long-range reconnaissance and observation of Iranian facilities and defences. Once you look deeper at the logistics of such a round-trip, and the formidable Russian-built air defences on the ground between Israel and Tehran, you quickly realise that the story doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
I'm not saying it didn't happen, because Iran's Chief Beardy Todger, or whatever, did fire the Grand Poobah of Iran's Air Force a few months after the supposed sortie took place. So it could have happened. It's just that the details are pretty sketchy.
But that does not mean that the Israelis couldn't make at least the F-35A variant work, somewhat. They have a long and storied history of taking American weapons systems, modifying them, improving upon them, and deploying them in actual hot combat to great effect. In fact, a VERY large part of the reason why the F-15 Eagle has such a superb combat record is because of the Israelis.
Unfortunately, Israelis modify weapons systems for Israeli purposes - and those are distinctly different from and quite limited compared to American needs.
Now, there are in fact a few defenders of this flying money-pit - which just goes to show how easily money overrides good sense. And they will read all that I have written above and snort in derision.
"Didact doesn't know what he's talking about", they will claim. "OF COURSE any aircraft that performs multiple roles will lose its stealth capabilities in some situations! And the F-35's flexibility and ordnance capacity is more than enough to deal with any threat, any time, anywhere!"
They will trot out this diagram to prove the point:
They will point to this triumphantly and say, "See?!! The F-35 does exactly what we said it would do!"
Not so fast, Sparky. That's pure corporate shilling from Lockheed there.
First, that is a theoretical maximum combat load. This version doesn't exist. The "beast mode" variant simply isn't proven, and given the well-known reliability problems with this thing, likely will not anytime soon.
Second, if "beast mode" is what is required, what exactly is wrong with using the tried, tested, battle-ready F-15 platform to do the same thing - which it can with far greater reliability?
And third, we come right back to the fact that the main gun doesn't work very well, which means that even an F-35 outfitted for air superiority engagements still wouldn't be able to dogfight, and an F-35 outfitted for air-to-ground missions with maximum bombing capacity still wouldn't be able to provide close air support.
In some desperation, the defenders of this appalling waste of time and money might point to the "fact" that the plane has common components across all variants.
Uh, actually, about that...:
So basically maybe 30% of all three types use common parts - NOT the originally touted 70% that was part of the design spec.
At this point, its ashen-faced supporters might argue that even if the F-35 can't dogfight and can't do ground-support, it can still function as an all-seeing "eye in the sky", providing intelligence to older, more heavily armed, non-stealthy aircraft and painting targets for them to eliminate.
My answer to that point remains the same as ever: what was the point of spending 1.4 TRILLION to develop an AWACS?
God Almighty, what an utter disaster this thing is.
So in the end, the answer to the question of whether the Turducken Plane can actually do ANY of its jobs, is still: NO. The F-35 is still a flying shitheap that cannot do what it was built to do, and which has proven to be the largest and most disastrously ill-conceived weapons program in human history.