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Posted on 30th March 2021
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The grudging admission by Air Force chief of staff General Charles Q. Brown that the F35 programme is a failure (as reported here by Extreme Tech) is, as the article points out, not a surprise to those familiar with the F35.
The programme was originally created in response to strong demands by the Marines to be allowed to buy British Harrier Jump-Jets, after they demonstrated their effectiveness in the Falklands war, where they soundly trounced a much larger Argentinian force of A-4 Skyhawks, IAI Daggers (copies of the Mirage V), Super Etendards and Mirage III interceptors, most of which were considered to be vastly superior aircraft. The Argentinian planes outnumbered the British aircraft by six to one. You can read more about the Harrier's role and performance in the Falklands war here on "We Are The Mighty". The combat advantage of the Harriers stemmed from their ability to use vectored thrust to increase maneuverability during dog-fights. The other reason that the US Marines wanted Harriers was for their vertical take-off and landing capability.
Instead of allowing the Marines to buy Harriers (they bought 77; not as many as they needed), the US decided to start their own VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft development programme, which eventually produced the F35, which is now in service in several countries. None of the various versions of the F35 has vertical take-off capability, and only the F35-B has vertical landing (for which it sacrifices about 30% of its fuel load and has reduced turning g).
So many compromises were made during development that the F35 is best described as a "jack of all trades, master of none". The Marines didn't get an aircraft capable of vertical take-off; The navy has a plane with reduced range/endurance and reduced maneuverability; indeed, no-one got what they wanted and were promised. Its mission capable rate is 69%, below the 80% benchmark set by the military. Operating costs are very high: the F-15EX costs an estimated $20,000 per hour to fly; the F-35 costs $44,000 per hour.
The F35 was planned to replace six different in-service aircraft types: the F16, the F-15C/D, the F-15E, the F22, the F/A-18 and the few Harriers that they bought. It was also slated to replace the A-10. Plans to retire several of those aircraft types have been shelved, and the US military is now planning new aircraft programmes to fill roles that the F35 turns out to be unsuited for or simply too expensive.
Of course, all these issues with the F35 are not only problems for the US; they have sold theses dreadful planes to several allies (Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Singapore, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom), who are now discovering that they have been "sold a pup", and are rethinking the number that they will ultimately buy. Buying American is not always the smart choice!