Aviation Week reports that the oldest F-35B could be put out to pasture in 2026. There's a problem with the too-good-to-be true Joint Strike Fighter. Structural defects may leave the Lightning II with a paltry service life of just 2,100 hours of flight time.
To put that in context, Lockheed, which bought the F-16 jet from General Dynamics, can upgrade the F-16 to increase its service life from 8,000 hours to 12,000 hours. That would be almost six times the service life operators can expect from Lockheed's F-35.
Back in the Harper era the F-35 was pitched as an airplane with a 50-year service life. I suppose if you chose to operate it for 40 hours a year, around 50 minutes every week, you might be able to stretch that out for 50 years. That still leaves you stuck with a hyper-costly hangar queen.
This, from National Interest:
The egregiously expensive and notoriously unreliable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is even more of a disappointment than you previously thought, according to a new Department of Defense assessment obtained by Bloomberg News.
The 2018 report from the Pentagon's operational testing and evaluation arm, set for public release this week and obtained early by Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio, indicates that ongoing reliability issues have drastically shortened the service life far below expectations, so far that there's "no improving trend in" available aircraft for training and combat missions — a dangerous combination for a perpetually buggy aircraft.The only surprise is that any of this should come as a surprise. The F-35 was never going to be more than prototypical, a "stealth Beta." What Lockheed designers set out to build was a "first off." The F-22 rolled out years earlier but it was a much different creature.
The F-35 is a flying bundle of compromises, shortcomings all stuffed within an already overstuffed fuselage. If it's going to be stealthy at all, everything that could give it away to an enemy's radar has to be housed inside. No bombs or missiles or fuel tanks hung beneath the wings, that sort of thing. Everything has to vie for space inside. That means small weapons bays, i.e. a limited payload. Fuel takes up a lot of space and, within the F-35, that dictated fuel bladders draped like blankets over the jet engine. What could possibly go wrong with that arrangement.
The stocky, wide-profile F-35 not only looks fat, like most fat things it has a weight problem. That quickly showed that the F-35 could not meet the military's requirement for take off and landing distances. That led to a brilliant idea. Change the specifications to suit the F-35 could do. At one point, Lockheed's efforts to trim weight led to the removal of the inboard fire extinguisher system. Think of that fuel bladder draped over the engine. Fuel bladder, engine, no fire extinguisher.
The wide profile, seen in the photo above, creates a lot of drag. Excess drag comes at the cost of speed and greater fuel consumption. One of the compromises or sacrifices was the Holy Grail of fighter aircraft, supercruise, the ability to achieve supersonic speeds without relying on the fuel-guzzling afterburner. That's particularly important for a strike fighter that needs to exit hostile airspace before enemy interceptors can catch up to it. When you're already limited in speed and onboard fuel limitations the typical adversary, the Su-33 with great range and twice the speed of sound can pretty quickly run down an F-35 trying to escape. That problem is made worse because the F-35 is not particularly stealthy from the rear aspect and it has one of the worst heat profiles from its exhaust, just ripe for an infrared missile.
Then there's age. Twenty years ago, when Lockheed engineers put pencil to paper, stealth was a revolutionary technology. The F-35 was going to be a 5th generation warbird. They used what they could from the F-22 but had to wing it from there. They set out to make three different warplanes out of one common design a chore bound to impose otherwise avoidable compromises. It was later determined it would have been less costly simply to design three distinct warplanes from the outset.
Twenty years that the F-35's intended adversaries, Russia and China, did not waste. They developed stealth aircraft of their own, assisted immeasurably by the capture of an American RQ-170 stealth drone, electronically commandeered and force landed in Iran, and repeated theft of data and code from manufacturers by Chinese hackers. The bad guys also upped their game on air defences with improved radars, sensor fusion, and better surface to air missile systems.
The worst part about the F-35 is that it revived the idea of a survivable war on China and Russia. It is a first strike warplane. One US general called it his "kick in the front door" weapon. The problem with that idea is that it assumes the adversary won't retaliate especially with missiles targeting the US mainland.
My guess is that, in another 20 years, when the truncated service life of the F-35 is coming to an end, we'll think it was one of the most boneheaded and wasteful military projects of all time.
In any event, between the US Air Force, the US Navy, the US Marines, Britain, Japan, a gaggle of European air forces and the Israelis, there'll probably be no shortage of warplanes for that "kick in the front door" moment should it ever arise. Canada won't be consequential to that.
We simply don't have money to waste on the F-35 just to keep the Pentagon and Lockheed happy. Best we sit this one out. This time, Trudeau called it right.