Monday, February 02, 2015

Is the F-35 the West's Flying Maginot Line?

The overpriced, overdue and under-performing F-35 could actually weaken the defences of America and her allies, including Canada.  Even pretending, for the sake of argument, that the Lockheed light attack bomber could meet the expectations we all had for it at its inception, the sheer cost of the project, especially at a time of austerity, is crippling.

The hard-right Washington Examiner compares the F-35 to France's Maginot Line.

Between the two world wars, France chose to build an impregnable defense against the sort of invasions it suffered in 1870 and 1914. The Maginot Line was over 900 miles long, took 10 years and cost billions of francs to build. The Germans rendered it irrelevant in 1940 by driving their tanks around it.

When it comes to defence budgets, the F-35 is a money magnet.  It sucks money that could be put to better use for other things.  Some purchasers, like the Netherlands, have tried to cope by paring their orders.  The Dutch initially planned to buy 85 light bombers.  They're now in for just 37.  Perhaps 37 would do less damage to the Dutch than being on the hook for 85.

As an untried and unproven weapon system, the F-35 is a potential basket full of surprises.  We're told what it can do but that's a lot like listening to a salesman pitch a car he won't let you take for a drive.  Every other warplane on the market is available for testing and evaluation.  Only the most expensive allows you to kick the tires only after your cheque has cleared the bank.

The Germans knew the Maginot Line was too tough to crack but they also knew that didn't matter if they were willing to send their tanks pouring through the Ardennes forest.  And so they did and so France fell.

The F-35 boasts the invincibility of stealth technology.  While the airplane has been mired in development challenges and setbacks, its intended adversaries, Russia and China, have made good use of their time unlocking the secrets of America's stealth technology, developing and fielding counter-stealth systems and even producing their own stealth warplanes that, quite by coincidence I'm sure, will be operational about the same time as the F-35 (if we're lucky).  

A few years ago it was reported that the Chinese were pleased at the acceptance of the F-35 as the default warplane for the West.  They were happy because they were confident it could be countered and would, like the Maginot Line and the French, drain the defence budgets of America and her allies.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the final indignity of the F35 fiasco would be if the Chinese knock offs entered service earlier!!

Owen Gray said...

It's an old story, Mound. The planners and boosters fight the last war -- as everything around them changes.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anon. Interesting point you raise because it's unclear when, if ever, the F-35 will "enter service." If we go by the original specs, that F-35 will never happen and, hence, will never enter service. From what has leaked out, everything from buggy software to weight handicaps, engine problems and such suggest the F-35 will likely be only partially operational while the Gremlins are sorted out or the airplane is overtaken by a new technology alternative.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm not sure what war the F-35 is designed to fight, Owen, but I think it will be mediocre in some respects. When you tally up the number of capabilities the F-35 sacrifices for its limited, if not illusory, stealth advantage it's hard to predict how many years it will be a viable, frontline warplane before the 6th generation fighter comes along designed to fix the 35's glaring gaps.