A common failure of military types is that they're forever preparing to fight the last war instead of the next war.
It's human nature. They know the last war, they lived through it. They know where they had trouble, where they made mistakes, what they might have avoided, if only... And so, when new stuff comes along, they tend to view it in the context of that last war. Could the F-35 be an example of that very same thing?
We like to herald the F-35 as a Fifth Generation warplane. That implies it's the successor to earlier, second, third, fourth generation warplanes, something of a linear progression.
But what if what we need now isn't a fifth generation warplane but a first generation aircraft for an entirely new paradigm in warfare, a type of warfare for the 21st Century, Cyber-war?
We didn't learn much of the new paradigm in warfare during the first decade of the century while we engaged in drawn out, indecisive combat with opponents armed with Korean and Vietnam war-vintage hardware.
But now, as Washington pivots from the Middle East and South Asia to East Asia and the Pacific we're beginning to enter the realm of cyber-war and a lot of the time-honoured, old bets may be off.
The United States is only just beginning to formulate policies, development strategies, weapons and rules of engagement for cyber-war.
The Washington Post reports the Pentagon is stepping up efforts at developing cyberweaponry to disable an enemy's most important targets such as air defence networks.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has warned Americans of the dangers of a "cyber Pearl Harbour" attack on the United States.
AviationWeek has warned that not only have the Chinese hacked into and stolen several terabytes of data and codes from the F-35 programme, several potential adversaries are already preparing cyberweapons to wreak havoc on the computer controls of the F-35 and its supporting aircraft in the air. Before Christmas the Iranians used what must have been some sort of cyberweapon to seize control of a state of the art, Lockheed/USAF stealth drone in Iranian airspace and fly it to a safe landing and capture.
If the Iranians can hijack a stealth drone with supposedly ultra-secure data link communications, how vulnerable might the F-35 be to Russian and Chinese cyberweapons - especially after they get a turn at stripping the stealth secrets from what is now Iran's drone?
Maybe that reality means we shouldn't treat the F-35 as a Fifth Generation warplane but a First Generation light bomber for the cyber-warfare era. It's not a matter of semantics. It goes to how the F-35 should be perceived in terms of capabilities and risk. It recognizes that the F-35 can't be evaluated in terms of 20th century warfare. It prudently acknowledges that the F-35 is something of an unknown quantity for a new era of warfare we're only just beginning to explore.
On the grounds of this glaring cyber-warfare uncertainty, on the grounds of still unknowable but already alarming costs, on the grounds of the F-35s brittle stealth technology, on the grounds of the F-35's apparent cyber-war vulnerability, and on the grounds of the F-35's non-stealth mediocrity, we must rethink this whole F-35 project with a very critical and questioning mind. There are a lot of hard questions that aren't even being asked and the answers could show we're heading blind into a massive blunder.