American military affluenza and the F-35

F22.F35.Screen-Shot-2016-01-22-at-5.08.21-PM-620x402Source: David Archibald.

American military strategy is based on air power.  In every military action since the Korean Conflict, the United States ruled the skies.

Two things could threaten this.  One is an oil shortage or lack of access to oil, which doesn’t seem to be a problem for the foreseeable future.  The other is a loss of the U.S. technological edge, which, according to a writer named David Archibald, is a real possibility.

The U.S. Air Force latest fighter-bomber, the F-22 is a superior aircraft, but it takes 42 man-hours of maintenance for every hour in the air.  F-22 pilots are restricted to 10 to 12 hours of flying per month, much less than required to maintain proficiency, because its operating cost is $58,000 per hour.

The F-35 on paper is a science-fictional wonder plane.  It has stealth capability.  Its computerized helmet supposedly gives pilots 360-degree vision and the ability to share data instantly with commanders and other pilots.

But, according to recent reports, it is like the F-22, only worse.  First planned in 2001, it still is not ready.  Development is more than $200 billion over budget.  It lacks maneuverability.  It doesn’t fly in cold weather.  The computers lack software pilots say they need for  combat.  The ejection seats don’t work.  The fuel tanks are vulnerable to lightning strikes.

But the Air Force is committed to it.  The main argument, according to Archibald, is the lack of a Plane B.  That, and the sunk costs and the jobs and profits that will be lost of the F-35 is canceled.

The older planes were well, but they are all designed prior to 1992 and are obsolete compared to the planes of other modern nations.  Archibald’s solution is for the United States to adopt the Swedish Gripen E fighter.  I don’t know enough to say whether this is feasible.  My guess is that the U.S. Air Force will not adopt a foreign design in any case.

 Source: Augustine’s Laws

In 1983, Norman Augustine, an aerospace executive, jokingly predicted that, if then-present trends continued, the entire Department of Defense aviation budget by 2054 would be devoted to just one aircraft, which the Navy and Air Force would each use 3.5 days a week, and the Marine Corps during the extra day in leap year.

We’re not there yet, but, as the top chart shows, the Air Force is adding fewer planes despite spending more.

I remember years ago reading about the Spanish Armada.  King Philip II of Spain ruled the richest empire in the world, covering most of the Western Hemisphere and much of Europe.  He told shipbuilders to build the world’s mightiest fighting vessels, without regard to expense.  But when the Armada put to sea, it could not withstand either bad weather or the low-budget British sea dogs.

I think the decision-makers in Washington suffer from the same mind-set as King Philip.  I think they believe they are so rich and powerful that they don’t have to think about cost and practicality.  I think they think they have enough money at their disposal to buy their way out of anything.   National leaders with limited choices pay a lot more attention to making the right choices.

I oppose the current American military adventures abroad, but I also believe the time will come when the United States needs a strong defense.  All the countries our government treats as enemies will come together and the rest of the world may not give us much sympathy.  I would hate to think that when that day comes, we will have frittered away all our strength.


American Gripen: the Solution to the F-35 Nightmare by David Archibald for The Daily Caller.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

America’s F-22 Raptor Stealth Fighter Is a Killer (But It Can Be Defeated) by Dave Majumdar for The National Interest.

Pentagon: Here are all the problems with the F-35 by Jeremy Bender for Business Insider.

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4 Responses to “American military affluenza and the F-35”

  1. The Grey Enigma Says:

    Interesting, but because of the timeline involved it would have been more informative if the comparisons were in fixed-dollars vs nominal dollars.


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