Sunday, October 14, 2012


Like the autumn leaves, the myths about the F-35 stealth light bomber are finally falling.   Now it's beginning to emerge that the F-35 may just be the warplane our potential adversaries want us to buy.  

As Travis Sharp, an analyst with the Centre for a New American Security puts it, "There's a real risk that a lot of the high-tech investments are going toward things our adversaries want us to invest in, because they can neutralize them - and spend far less money to do so."

The thing is, there's never been a warplane quite like the F-35.  Its systems use almost 9-million lines of computer code of which some, perhaps a lot, has already been hacked.   Originally intended to be in operational service by now, the F-35 won't enter service with the U.S. until 2016 and, even then, isn't expected to complete operational testing until somewhere around 2019.   That's right.   Testing won't be finished until the airplane has already been in service for three years.   Yes, this aerial horse is definitely behind the cart.

Not only is the F-35 incredibly complex, it's also hyper-expensive.  You pay dearly for the latest and greatest.   You pay in a lot of ways.  You  pay in limited numbers.   The more something costs, the fewer of them you can afford to buy.   You pay in the number of years you need to rely on the thing.   The more it costs, the longer you'll have to wait before replacing it.   When you buy the F-35, you're strapping that baby on for somewhere between three and five decades.   You're gambling the farm on that warplane remaining viable for up to half a century.   Oh yeah, good luck with that.

The F-35 is designed to hold its own against older airplanes.   It hasn't been designed to defeat the next generation of warplanes our potential adversaries have under development.   And it won't necessarily do too well against updated, older warplanes either.

The F-35 is a provocative weapons system, make no mistake about that.  We're pointing it at the heads of already and increasingly advanced countries. the type that have sophisticated air defences the F-35 is designed to overwhelm.   And, based on what we've already shown them and all that data, equipment and material they've filched, they think they've figured out how neutralize our threat - and, worse, do it on the cheap.

Once they manage to defeat the F-35's stealth technology and copy its electronic wizardry, they may be able to hand us our greatest strategic defeat in history, all without firing a shot.   We'll have spent ourselves into impotence, so fiscally deep into the F-35 we won't be able to get out.

Are there alternatives?  Plenty.   As US Navy admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, pointed out we might do far better focusing on advanced, long-range weaponry instead of focusing on hyper-expensive, perishable-technology warplanes to essentially do the same job.

Or we can be suckers.


Steve Cooley said...

Focus on advanced long range weaponery sounds like the Bomarc missiles.

The Mound of Sound said...

Not at all, Steve. The Americans demonstrated the viability and cost-effectiveness of cruise missile technology and the Russians have followed suit. You can stay well back of the range of the F-35 and launch cruise weapons. And, for the cost of a '35, you can easily get a hundred cruise missiles plus an effective aircraft to launch them.

Remember, the F-35 is a two-weapon aircraft. Does anyone believe a '35 would survive 50-bombing missions into heavily defended airspace? In fact, as the Australian simulation showed, all the enemy defenders need do is take down your all too vulnerable tankers, and the F-35 becomes a single-mission warplane.

Canada will still need some air superiority/ground attack multi-role fighter. The F-35 does none of those jobs.

Anonymous said...

Cruise missiles are offensive weapons. I think the vast majority of Canadians (apart from the hard core Harperites) would object to this type of military acquisition.

I agree that Canada needs a multi-role fighter/bomber in a mainly defensive role. The twin engine, already in operation, partially stealthy and relatively inexpensive Super Hornet would be a good choice, in my opinion.

The Mound of Sound said...

Cruise missiles are not exclusively offensive although they do lend themselves to that. They can, however, be a vital arrow in a defender's quiver. One variety, the long-range anti-ship missile, is relied upon by Iran to deter American attack. These missiles could quarantine the Gulf, disrupting world access to oil and bringing the world economy crashing down.

Yes, the vast majority of Canadians, me included, prefer our armed forces to be a home defence/sovereignty patrol service but we really haven't balked in any large numbers at contributions of Canadian air power in Desert Storm, Kosovo or Libya for that matter.

It's telling that, in its combat career, the CF-18 has suffered zero losses to enemy fire. Now, however, we need a hyper-expensive, purportedly stealthy warplane so we'll achieve zero losses in combat.

In the sort of war one buys warplanes like the F-35 to fight, there would be a viable, perhaps quite powerful aerial opponent with modern defences. Think Sukhoi, think SA-300 and 400 missile batteries. You buy the F-35 to wage war with China or Russia or both. That seems to be in the back of Harper's mind.