1. Opinion

Ruth: The F-35 boondoggle

Published Aug. 5, 2016

At long last, the Pentagon announced days ago that the super-duper, state-of-the-art, creme de la creme, Chivas Regal of warplanes, the F-35 Joint Strike Force fighter, has achieved "initial operational capability."

Maybe. Sorta. Kinda. More or less. Whatever.

Cue: "Off we go into the wild red ink yonder."

You would think after 15 years in development and some $400 billion in taxpayer dollars spent to create the most deadly, sophisticated weapons system on the face of the planet, the end product would have the wherewithal to defeat ISIS, bring down Syria's Bashar Assad and force a trembling Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine, profusely apologizing for a simple practical joke that went awry.

Instead, after all the money and a 70 percent cost overrun to get the F-35 off the ground, we are left with "initial operational capability." That would seem to essentially involve the jet flying over hostile territory while engaging in various international hand gestures signifying "So's your ol' lady!"

Defense Department officials heralded the F-35 as now quite capable of providing "basic air support," but only if other military aircraft are involved to provide "basic air support" to the F-35 while the vaunted fighter jet conducts its "basic air support" of dropping a snarky Bronx cheer on the enemy below. Think of this as a bodyguard needing a chaperone to stave off potential muggers.

At the moment, there are no plans to send the F-35 into a hostile situation, much less break up a fight on the Jerry Springer Show. So-called "full combat operational capability" isn't expected for at least another three years, which would take the plane's development to almost a full 20 years without ever firing a shot in anger, or even annoyance. Although it is expected to utter a few Moe Howard-esque "Why, I oughta!" invectives in the general direction of unpleasant people.

You might recall the great hue and cry that has dogged the Obama administration over the failed solar energy company Solyndra, which received a $535 million federal loan and then promptly went belly up. Scandal! Shame! Ignominy!

Blowing $535 million in public money will not be a point of pride in the pages of President Barack Obama's memoir. Then again consider that $535 million would roughly cover the cost of only five — count 'em, five — F-35s, an aircraft that is vulnerable to lightning strikes, while flying at night or in the rain.

There have been persistent problems with the F-35's onboard computers, which use some 8 million lines of software coding. And Pentagon officials have acknowledged the Chinese successfully hacked into government and defense contractor servers to gain access to the F-35's stealth technology.

Peek-a-boo, I see you.

Aside from design flaws in the $400,000 pilot's helmet that makes it difficult to distinguish friend from foe (that could be a bit of a problem), not to mention the F-35 had its afterburner handed to it in a mock dogfight with the F-16, the plane it is supposed to replace, development of the aircraft continues to move forward toward an expected cost of $1.5 trillion over the life of the program.

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If there is anything Washington does best it is launching huffing and puffing investigations — Benghazi, Hillary Clinton's emails, alleged IRS abuses and on and on and on.

And yet the compromised $400 billion (and growing) mother of all snafus has barely raised an eyebrow of outrage beyond Arizona Sen. John McCain last April briefly bemoaning what a "scandal and a tragedy" the F-35 program was before quickly moving on to other business.

There is a reason the F-35 has been described as the weapons system too big to kill.

According to Lockheed Martin, the primary defense contractor for the F-Yugo, 45 states plus Puerto Rico are involved in various support functions for the plane. The F-Edsel is responsible for approximately 133,000 jobs, spread out across some 1,300 suppliers, including a Pinellas Park Lockheed Martin facility that produces the aircraft's canopy and the frame that holds it in place.

The F-35 could be outmaneuvered by a Sopwith Camel and you still would not find a Republican or Democrat in Congress who would raise a peep over spending $400 billion on a weapons system whose biggest threat to the enemy consists of condescending glares of scorn.

This is a bipartisan military-industrial complex boondoggle.

But never fear, the F-35 now has "initial operational capability." What's that mean? Who knows? Calling up ISIS from 40,000 feet to ask if they have pop in the bottle?


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