2021-03-06 16:24:02 UTC
Powerful lawmaker calls F-35 jet fighter a ‘rathole,’ suggests Pentagon
should cut its losses
March 5, 2021 at 5:10 pm Updated March 5, 2021 at 5:48 pm
By AARON GREGG
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — The Democratic chairperson of the House Armed Services
Committee called the Lockheed Martin-produced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
a “rathole” in a virtual event with the Brookings Institution on Friday,
and suggested the U.S. should consider whether to “cut its losses” by
investing in a range of competing fighter jets.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., whose Seattle-area district depends heavily on
Boeing for jobs and investment, said the F-35 “doesn’t work particularly
well” and is too expensive to maintain. He also bemoaned the U.S.
military’s long-term dependence on it.
“I want to stop throwing money down that particular rathole,” Smith said
in a webcast conversation with Brookings’ Michael O’Hanlon.
He characterized the F-35 as overly expensive defense platform with
disappointing capabilities. He criticized the jet’s sustainment costs as
“brutal,” and said he was skeptical they would ever go down. The
solution, he said, is to invest in other fighter jets so the Defense
Department has a range of options at its fingertips.
“What I’m going to try to do is figure out how we can get a mix of
fighter attack aircraft that’s the most cost-effective. A big part of
that is finding something that doesn’t make us have to rely on the F-35
for the next 35 years,” Smith said.
The F-35 is meant to serve as an attack aircraft that can carry advanced
weaponry, employ sophisticated electronic jamming devices, and evade
enemy detection by virtue of its stealthy design. It also has
surveillance and communication capabilities that network it into the
U.S. military’s other assets.
But the program is expected to cost more than $1 trillion over the
course of its 60-year life span, making it the most costly weapons
program in U.S. history. Its unit price recently dropped below $80
million, making it cheaper than Boeing’s competing F15-EX on a
plane-by-plane basis. But the lower unit cost comes largely as a result
of the fact that the Defense Department is buying more of them and
spending more on the program on the whole. It has also been criticized
for its high sustainment costs.
The F-35′s fortunes soared under former president Donald Trump as the
Pentagon used its looser defense budget as an opportunity to buy the
jets in bulk. A 2019 deal to purchase hundreds of them in a $33 billion
deal was touted as the largest single procurement in the history of the
U.S. military. The deal pushed Bethesda-based manufacturer Lockheed
Martin’s revenue to new heights even when the coronavirus kneecapped
other aerospace manufacturers.
The F-35 is widely regarded in the aviation community as an advanced
fighter asset whose combination of stealth, situational awareness, and
firepower will deter aggression from hostile nations like Russia and
China. But there have at times been severe difficulties with keeping the
planes ready to fly, a problem caused largely by the logistical
challenge of keeping its advanced spare parts readily available across
The jet’s mission-capable rate, which measures the amount of time the
jet is able to fly at least one of its assigned missions, has often
fallen short of expectations. A 2019 report from the Government
Accountability Office found the overall F-35 fleet was capable of
performing all of its tasked missions only about a third of the time.
(On another metric, in which only “combat-coded” F-35’s are considered,
the mission capable rate is much higher at closer to 80%.)
The Pentagon is already looking for alternatives. It is in the early
phases of developing a completely new jet, called Next Generation Air
Dominance, or NGAD, which will eventually replace the F-35. And the Air
Force is also buying Boeing’s F15-EX to give it a competing option.
Doug Birkey, executive director of the Air Force Association-affiliated
Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, said it would be foolish to
significantly scale back the F-35 program at a time when it is just
coming to fruition. The United States has already sunk untold billions
into its development and might as well reap the rewards, he said.
Scaling back the F-35 program at this point “would be like buying all of
the lumber for a new house, getting halfway through building it, and
then saying ‘you know what, I don’t want to pay for the paint,'” Birkey
This story was originally published at washingtonpost.com. Read it here.
Most Read Nation & World Stories