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How’s that Name-Change Working Out?

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

Back in 2007, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced Senate Bill S 2398, the Stop Outsourcing Security Act. It collected a single co-sponsor, Senator Hillary Clinton.

The crux of the bill:

The use of private security contractors for mission critical functions undermines the mission, jeopardizes the safety of American troops conducting military operations in Iraq and other combat zones, and should be phased out.

It went nowhere.

Back in the heat of the presidential campaign, in February 2008, Senator Clinton said that:

“…from this war’s very beginning, this administration has permitted thousands of heavily-armed military contractors to march through Iraq without any law or court to rein them in or hold them accountable. These private security contractors have been reckless and have compromised out mission in Iraq. The time to show these contractors the door is long past due.”

Indeed. And Clinton’s voice was not the only one raised against the damage done by mercenaries. A Congressional report found the same, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had tough words as well.

One of the main catalysts for those tough words was the company that now calls itself Xe but is still known to everyone as Blackwater. Although Blackwater’s contract for security work in Iraq was canceled after nearly five years of behavior that some might call scandalously reckless and I call bloodthirsty, the administration in which Clinton is now a key player has found itself unable to cut its ties to Blackwater. At a hearing last month of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, it was learned, as Justin Elliott reported at TPMuckracker, that Blackwater pre-qualified as one of the five companies to train Afghan police. It was learned too that Blackwater is the only company that handles security for State Department employees in Afghanistan. And it obviously has a security contract with the CIA for front line work in Afghanistan.

The question is why. Or, rather, what the hell? As if U.S. military interventions weren’t problematic enough, these cowboys still operate as if they were in some third-tier action movie. Not a low-budget one, however.  

As if all the sanguinary scandals and investigations of the past weren’t enough, all through December, the headlines fairly screamed “Blackwatergate.”

First came the news about Blackwater participating in CIA raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then a more than mildly perturbed judge ruled that the five company employees who had killed 17 civilians in Iraq couldn’t be tried because federal prosecutors had botched what should have been an airtight case against them by violating their constitutional rights. Then it was learned that two of the seven CIA operatives killed December 30 by a double-agent suicide bomber in Khost, Afghanistan, were Blackwater employees. Then it turned out that a third Blackwater employee was injured in the Khost bombing. Then two Blackwater employees were indicted for murdering two Afghans last May.

The news about the deaths at Khost sent Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, over the edge. She was launching an investigation she told Jeremy Scahill, a reporter at The Nation who has been following Blackwater since he began research for his outstanding 2008 book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Schakowsky said:
 

“The Intelligence Committees and the public were led to believe that the CIA was phasing out its contracts with Blackwater and now we find out that there is this ongoing presence. … Is the CIA once again deceiving us about the relationship with Blackwater?

“It’s just astonishing that given the track record of Blackwater, which is a repeat offender endangering our mission repeatedly, endangering the lives of our military and costing the lives of innocent civilians, that there would be any relationship,” Schakowsky said. “That we would continue to contract with them or any of Blackwater’s subsidiaries is completely unacceptable.”

Today, on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed Scahill and Schakowsky. You can watch it, read the transcript at the link, or read the excerpt below:

JEREMY SCAHILL: … Let’s remember here that this was the worst attack on a CIA base that we know about since the 1980s. And here you have three Blackwater guys in the center of this blast at the time. Now, we’re not sure what the role was of the Blackwater guys there. That’s what Representative Schakowsky is investigating right now. But let’s say for a moment that they were doing security, because Blackwater has, since 2002, had a contract with the CIA to do force protection in Afghanistan for the CIA. They not only guard static outposts of the CIA, but when CIA operatives move around the country, Blackwater guys travel with them as their security.

So if they were doing the security there, and you have, on their watch, this incredibly devastating attack, not just against some random CIA outpost in the middle of Canada or something, but against the epicenter of the forward operating maneuvers that the intelligence community of the US is engaged in to hunt down Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, because this asset made it onto that base, we understand, claiming that he had just met with Ayman al-Zawahiri. So how is it that he walks in there with explosives? And then, I think that should be one of the things that’s investigated as Congresswoman Schakowsky takes this on.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Congresswoman Schakowsky, your concerns about this latest report and what you’re hoping to look into?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: You know, regardless of what the role that the Blackwater operatives were playing in this incident, why is the CIA, why is any unit of the government, the State Department, the Department of Defense—why would anyone hire this company, which is a repeat offender, threatening the mission of the United States, threatening, endangering the lives of American, well, CIA and military, and then—and also known to threaten and kill innocent civilians? It is just amazing to me, astonishing to me, that we still find Blackwater anywhere in the employ of the United States government at any place around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, during the primaries, Hillary Clinton supported a ban on Blackwater. President Obama didn’t. How does that relate to what you’re introducing now, the legislation that you’re introducing?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Look, I’m introducing legislation called Stop Outsourcing Our Security, and the idea of that is that when we have mission-sensitive activities, inherently governmental functions in battle zones around the world, that we should have only people that bear the stamp of the United States government. And that means that that would include no private military contractors at all in those operations.

Now, look, when we have a situation where you can question whether or not these contractors can get away with murder—after all, this case against those shooters at Nisoor Square has been dismissed—hopefully that there will be another effort by the Justice Department to go after these people, because it was dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct, which is true. I think there were many mistakes made. But right now, these contractors are in a legal limbo. And so, if these individuals can get away with murder, imagine—you don’t have to imagine, you know what it does to our relations with the Iraqi government and with governments around the world. And now you’ve got a situation where Germany is asking, what were Blackwater people doing in Germany?

Not just Blackwater. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairperson of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, pointed out in mid-December that from June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan. In the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Pentagon in Afghanistan doubled, to more than 10,000.

I suspect that the Stop Outsourcing Our Security legislation has no more chance of passing in 2010 than it did in 2007-08. That’s not merely troubling, it’s infuriating. Because whatever you think of U.S. policy in Afghanistan – and I think the White House is on the wrong track and we’ll all soon come to regret it – who can doubt that these private armies are a serious danger, and not just to U.S. “interests and image” abroad, but, quite possibly in the not-too-distant future, to citizens at home.  


Marianne Bordt Charged: Police Say Grandmother Drowned Child Over Divorce

January 6th, 2010 admin No comments

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A 71-year-old German woman drowned her 5-year-old grandson in a bathtub while they were vacationing in the Florida Panhandle because she didn’t want to see the boy grow up in a divorced home, authorities said Tuesday.

The grandmother, Marianne Bordt, tried to commit suicide after the drowning Monday by wading into the Gulf of Mexico wearing heavy clothes, authorities said. Bordt, of Nufringen, Germany, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Camden Hiers at a condominium on St. George Island, about 60 miles southwest of Tallahassee.

A public defender was appointed for Bordt, but no one answered at the office after business hours.

The boy’s parents had joint custody of Camden after they divorced in 2006, but he lived mostly with his mother in the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, Ga. His father, David Hiers, lives nearby and is on his way to Florida, according to his attorney.

“I don’t think anybody ever knows that a grandparent could be capable of something like this,” said Hiers’ attorney J. Thomas Salata. “David Hiers is extremely distraught and overwhelmed with grief over this incident.”

A phone message left at the mother’s home, Karen Hiers, was not immediately returned. She is Bordt’s daughter.

Bordt’s husband, Heinz, told police he came back from shopping to find his wife returning from the beach sopping wet from the neck down, clad in a red jacket and long underwear.

“Mr. Bordt said that when he went into the house he saw his grandson partial(ly) submerged lying in the bathtub with his face in the water,” according to a sworn statement by Franklin County Sheriff’s Lt. Ronnie Segree wrote. “Mr. Bordt pulled him out of the bathtub placing him on the living room floor.”

His wife tried to run away from the two-story condominium building, but he forced her into the car and the couple drove to the local fire station, Segree wrote. The boy was dead when authorities arrived.

Marianne Bordt was being held without bond and has been placed under a suicide watch.

Her case will be reviewed by a grand jury, which must issue an indictment before she can be prosecuted for first-degree murder. The panel also has the option of reducing or rejecting the charge.

First-degree murder convictions in Florida are punishable by either death or life in prison without parole.

___

Associated Press writer Dorie Turner in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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David Harris: Responding to the Critics on Israel and Airport Security

January 4th, 2010 admin No comments

Here, in the wake of the Christmas-day terrorist attempt, I thought I was writing about enhancing our flight security by seeing what we might learn from Israel, a country with its own share of experience in this area.

It turns out, instead, that for some readers my last piece, posted December 31, provided a handy excuse to unleash their unbridled hostility toward Israel.

Sorting through the chorus of critics, certain themes emerge. Let’s look at five of them.

The first essentially says: “We despise Israel and, therefore, there’s nothing we can learn from it.”

Hmm, that’s an intelligent approach to life.

This is not the time or place to speculate about the roots of this anti-Israel venom. But if a country has something to share with us — intelligence, technology, experience — that could save American lives, is it rational to summarily reject the information because Israel, for whatever unfathomable reason, is deemed beyond the pale? In fact, given Israel’s outsized role in technological innovation, such a dismissive attitude could cost us big-time if taken to its logical conclusion.

The second group asserts that an Israeli company manages security for Amsterdam’s airport and failed the test, which, ipso facto, disqualifies Israel from the discussion.

The security operation in Israel is run by the government. To date, it has been remarkably successful. All the pieces of the security puzzle appear to operate in harmony, so that no piece of relevant information gets lost or sidelined.

In Amsterdam, airport security is in the hands of a private company that works at the behest of the Dutch government. The two situations are not comparable.

Moreover, unless the U.S. government shared the information that the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab warned about his son’s radicalization — which it did not — or that American officials picked up intelligence chatter about a Nigerian with Yemeni connections planning an attack — which again it did not — how were security personnel in Amsterdam supposed to be on the lookout for him?

For that matter, if the facts that the plane ticket was purchased with cash and that Abdulmutallab had no luggage were not shared from the point of origin, i.e., Africa, how would this be known for a passenger transiting in Amsterdam?

And if the Dutch airport authority opted, for whatever reason, not to install advanced passenger scanning equipment at every checkpoint, this cannot be blamed on a security company, which, at the end of the day, doesn’t have a blank check to do everything it wants.

A third group claims that Israel gets financial aid from the U.S., siphoning off the monetary resources that could otherwise be spent to improve our own airport security.

Yes, as an ally in a dangerous neighborhood, Israel gets foreign military assistance from the U.S. (apropos, not only does Egypt get almost as much support, but also its debt to the U.S. of nearly seven billion dollars was canceled several years ago.) The bulk of that aid to Israel, however, must by law be spent in this country, which means the U.S. defense industry and the American worker are direct beneficiaries.

By the way, it may come as a surprise that total U.S. foreign aid to Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and scores of other countries, amounts to 0.2 percent of U.S. Gross National Income.

The U.S. also gets another return on its investment: Israel has tested American equipment in real-life situations, found ways to enhance it, and shared the knowledge with the U.S., which accrues to the benefit of our armed services. And it has scored many intelligence coups during and since the Cold War, which have also helped the U.S. defense posture.

On a related note, the decades-long American military presence in countries from Japan to South Korea, from Germany to Italy, is counted not in our foreign-aid budget, but in our defense budget. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars, if not more, protecting our allies with troops and treasure. That should put our support for Israel, which, incidentally, has never asked for American troops to defend it, in some perspective.

The fourth group conjures up all kinds of nightmarish scenarios of Israel’s security brutishness at airports, asserting that such behavior is not for America. Unverified stories are trotted out and exceptional cases, if true, are presented as the norm, and as if they never happened at any other airport in the world.

Israel has only one goal — to assure the flying public, irrespective of race, religion, or nationality, a safe journey. And Israel knows that safety cannot be taken for granted.

History has shown there are those who wish to do harm either on the ground or in the air, and Israel has no choice but to try to find them before they strike. Israel’s procedures have worked, with a minimum of inconvenience for the vast majority of travelers, who spend no more time at the airport than their American counterparts.

The fifth group of critics goes the furthest in suggesting that, were it not for Israel, terrorism would magically disappear and humankind would live happily ever after. Right!

Apart from the blindingly obvious fact that Israel is a front-line target of terrorism by those who wish its annihilation, there is another blindingly obvious fact: Those very same terrorist groups share in common a larger hatred — of the United States, irrespective of who sits in the Oval Office; the West; moderate Arab regimes; democracy; secularism; pluralism; and modernity (except for the modern tools they have at their disposal to pursue their medieval aims).

You don’t have to take my word for it. The terrorists shout it from the rooftops. They proclaim it in their charters and covenants. Their spokesmen trumpet it on videos and websites. And, of course, they act on their beliefs.

If Israel weren’t around, would 9/11 not have happened? Or the London bus bombings? Or the Madrid train bombings? Or the Bali massacre? Or the attacks in Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey? Or the Fort Hood shooting spree? Or the daily strikes on civilians in Pakistan? Or the al-Qaeda presence in Yemen? Or the training camps in Somalia? Or the Taliban campaign to snuff out any glimmer of freedom for women? Or the latest attempt to kill a Danish cartoonist? Or Abdulmuttalab’s plan to blow up Flight 253?

It’s high time to grasp the essential fact that there exists a jihadist ideology driven by zealous belief, not downtrodden misery, which has us in its crosshairs — in the air, on land, and on the high seas.

Rather than pretending it doesn’t exist, or rationalizing it, or ascribing it to right-wing warmongering, or blaming everyone but those responsible, let’s get real and focus on those who wish us harm — not those, like Israel, who stand with us.

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David Kaufman: Black Man Rising: President Obama and the Anti-Defamation League’s "African-American Issue"

January 3rd, 2010 admin No comments

Just a few weeks ago, the venerable Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released its list of the 10 “Top Issues Affecting Jews in 2009″. Published annually, the report detailed the key geopolitical incidents and concerns which shaped both the good and bad news last year in Jewish communities worldwide.

From the ongoing threat of a nuclear-armed Iran to June’s Holocaust Museum shooting in Washington, DC, the passing of the Federal Hate Crimes Bill to the UN’s highly controversial Goldstone Report, the ADL brief illustrates that both philo- and anti-semitism remained alive and well in 2009.

While all of the ADL’s “top issues’ were certainly newsworthy, the group chose one in particular to kick-off its missive: “Barack Obama became the first African-American to assume the presidency”. Although part of a larger talking point highlighting executive changes in both Washington and Jerusalem, the wording of this statement could not be more curious.

Because in honoring Pres. Obama’s election, the ADL chose to conspicuously lead with and solely focus on his race — not his campaign, his party-affiliation, education or any element of his administration or cabinet. Just his race. As the ADL makes abundantly clear, any Obama news worth reporting can legitimately begin by qualifying his ethnic origins.

WTF?

As the son of a Jewish-American mother and African-American father, I am intimately-familiar with the complex, collaborative and often contentious history between Blacks and Jews in this nation. And indeed, I am not wholly opposed to the ADL’s decision to highlight Pres. Obama’s race as an “issue” that affects Jews — and by association, Israel. What is bothersome, however, is the wantonness, randomness and insincerity of the ADL’s actions.

As an organization rooted in rooting out bigotry and discrimination, the ADL is well aware of the weight afforded to any race-based analysis of the Obama presidency — no matter how celebratory or minor. Well funded and unquestionably well connected, ADL officials are also clearly conscious of the import afforded to any document resulting from their press machine — particularly one with as loaded a title as “ADL Highlights Top Issues Affecting Jews in 2009″.

At best, the ADL should know better than to include Pres. Obama’s race anywhere in this critically important missive. At worst, one could legitimately ponder just what exactly they hoped to achieve with such race laden language.

The problem is we have no idea. Because after launching their report via race, the ADL’s release essentially never mentions it again. Instead, in its brief appearance, race is employed as a canard, a wild-card, a sound bite — the ADL is instructing us to believe that race matters, we’re just not told exactly why. With American Jewish leaders among Pres. Obama’s most vocal critics since his inauguration, such lack of context is reckless, insensitive and simply lazy.

This is not the first — and potentially not the last — time the ADL has highlighted Pres. Obama’s race when commenting on his politics or policies. Indeed, in a response to June’s historic Cairo speech — the one later lauded as “groundbreaking” in the Top 10 list — ADL national director Abraham Foxman not only made note of Obama’s race, he suggests it may be muddling his Middle Eastern agenda.

“Every individual brings his own baggage (to the presidency),” Foxman said. “He’s an African American . . . and he has rediscovered his Islamic roots after two years. I don’t like it, but I understand it.”

What’s most troubling about the ADL’s Top 10 List is the way it reaffirms the organization’s — and perhaps American Jewry’s — historic inner-conflict with African Americans. On one hand, you have statements like Foxman’s above — which spuriously links the President’s race with Islam and unfounded anti-Israel sentiments. But then you have documents such as Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies — which bravely and dramatically highlights “the current hostility (that has) swept across the United States” since Pres. Obama’s election. The ADL releases an impassioned statement lauding Obama’s inauguration as “a true milestone in our history and it is, in one sense, a realization of the dream”. But then it shamefully stays silent when the President is viciously attacked for his race by a group of young Jewish Americans in Jerusalem this summer. I’m hardly alone in wondering just how quiet the ADL would have remained had those kids been Black and their target Benjamin Netanyahu!

I’m a Jew and a Zionist and firmly believe that anti-semitism must be identified and attacked by any means necessary. Five thousand years of history more than confirm that Jews can be unjustly, violently and murderously targeted even in the most progressive societies — from Moorish Spain and Weimar Germany to an isolationist 1930s America and even Israel itself.

Nonetheless, much like the folks behind the Marriage Equality movement, there remains something rotten, churlish and downright sloppy about the ADL’s relationship with Pres. Obama’s race. Indeed, the fickle, irresponsible and almost infantile behavior of leaders from both groups — American Gays and Jews — has been perhaps the most disappointing political development of the past 12 months. I may be premature in predicting an unholy alliance between the Homo-Left and Judeo-Right. But such a marriage of convenience can no longer entirely be discounted as both sides — mired in misguided thinking and embracing similarly incendiary language — strive to confirm the old Arab maxim that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

Pres. Obama is clearly no enemy to either group and his race has no part in any discussion highlighting political issues affecting…well…anyone. I asked the ADL to explain why they placed Obama’s race so prominently in their release and never received a clear answer.

Intended for and distributed among mostly Jewish- and Israel-focused organizations, I suspect the ADL likely figured their “African American issue” would simply remain “within the family”. But in this era of Web 2.0, the fact that ADL officials could assume such verbiage could possibly pass unnoticed is, perhaps, the most offensive misstep of all.

As we enter a new year — and new decade — here’s hoping the ADL’s next Top 10 list is written with far more sechel than its last.

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Earl Ofari Hutchinson: Bestowing Sainthood on Pius XII Ignores a Heinous Past

December 24th, 2009 admin No comments

Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to press harder to make Pope Pius XII a saint is not a hostile act against Jews, it’s an abomination. The Vatican’s mute silence on the Holocaust under Pius’s watch aided and abetted it. The Vatican added more insult to Pius’s disgraceful World War II silence when it ducked and dodged repeated demands that it fully disclose all Pius’s correspondence and actions while the slaughter raged. Six years ago the Vatican hinted after repeated demands from Jewish scholars and leaders that the Vatican would release more of its World War II-era files on Pope Pius XII. It didn’t. So far, the Vatican has released a handful of carefully scrubbed wartime documents that reveal almost nothing about the Vatican’s dealings with Hitler.

It was virtually an article of faith during the decade I attended Catholic schools that Pius XII would one day be canonized a saint. The priests and nuns routinely punctuated their prayers with paeans in praise of the goodness and greatness of Pius XII. They urged us to pray for his continued health and well-being. In the decades since his death in 1959 Pius XII’s march to sainthood has been wracked by fierce debate over his dealings with Hitler and his refusal to speak out on the Holocaust.

There was great hope that this would change when John Paul II took over the Vatican reins. Over the years, he raked Catholics over the coals for saying and doing nothing about colonialism, slavery, and the pillage of the lands of indigenous people. But his continuing unwillingness to confront the Vatican’s complicity in Hitler’s Holocaust was another matter.

Vatican defenders cloud Papal guilt in the Holocaust by incessantly reminding that the Nazis murdered thousands of Catholics in and outside of Germany who aided the Jews. They also remind critics that Pius XII poured millions into relief for war refugees, gave sanctuary to Jews inside the Vatican, and played a huge role in post war recovery efforts and the restoration of democracy in Western Europe.

In 1998, the church made a mild stab at public atonement for past injustices when it formally apologized for centuries of Catholic anti-Semitism and the failure to combat Nazi persecution of the Jews. But the Vatican made no mention of Pius XII’s stone silence on Nazi atrocities. And it’s this continuing blind spot that riles many Jewish and church scholars.

The Vatican continues to keep silent on its Holocaust involvement for a painful reason. Its silence was not due to the moral lapses of individual Catholics, or that the church was ignorant of, or duped by, Hitler’s aims. It was a deliberate policy of appeasement crafted by church leaders. Before he ascended to the papacy in 1939, Pius XII was the Vatican’s ambassador to Germany and secretary of state during the crucial period when Hitler rose to power, and knew full well what Hitler was up to.

In his well-documented work, “Hitler’s Pope: the Secret History of Pius XII.” John Cornwell, Jesus College, Cambridge University professor notes that the Vatican signed its ill-famed concordat with Hitler in 1933 to prevent him from grabbing church property and meddling in church affairs. In return the Vatican pledged the absolute obedience of Germany’s Catholic priests and bishops to Hitler. As Pope, Pius XII sent a letter praising “the illustrious Hitler,” and expressing confidence in his leadership.

Even as evidence piled up that thousands of Jews were being shipped to the slaughter in Nazi concentration camps, Pius XII refused to reverse the Vatican’s see-no-evil, hear-no-evil political course. He ignored the pleas of President Roosevelt to denounce the Nazis. He declined to endorse a joint declaration by Britain, U.S and Russia condemning the killings of Jews, claiming that he couldn’t condemn “particular” atrocities. He was publicly silent when the Germans occupied Rome in 1944 and rounded up many of the city’s Jews. Many were later killed in concentration camps. He continued to send birthday greetings to Hitler each year until his death. He did not reprimand the Catholic archbishop of Berlin for issuing a statement mourning Hitler’s death.

Pius XII’s one and only known pronouncement during the war on the mass murders was a tepid, vaguely worded statement denouncing the deaths “of hundreds of thousands.” By then there were millions, and he did not mention Hitler, Nazi Germany, or the Jews in the statement.

In an Alice in Wonderland twist on reality, Vatican defenders say that airing old dirty laundry and fingering the culprits within the church that turned a blind eye toward Hitler’s ravages could damage the many efforts the church has made to heal the rift between Jews and Catholics. But the call for Benedict to bare the Papal chest on church sins for the Holocaust is not an academic exercise in moral flagellation. The thousands of Holocaust victims still alive bear the eternal scars of the Vatican’s Hitler-era acquiescence to genocide. And the modern day killing fields of Congo, Sudan, Rwanda and Cambodia are grim fresh reminders that the world still has not rid itself of the horrors of genocide.

John Paul II’s apology a decade ago for the sins of Catholics against the oppressed and Benedict’s many denunciations of the Holocaust was a step forward toward exorcising the wrongs of the past. But bestowing sainthood on Pope, Pius XII who said and did little while Hitler murdered millions is a huge step backward.


Earl Ofari Hutchinson
is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.

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Winslow T. Wheeler: A Tale of Two Pigs

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

(This essay is jointly written by Winslow T. Wheeler and Pierre M. Sprey.)

The Pentagon has a time honored tradition of assigning PR nicknames to its aircraft. The moniker of Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is “Lightning II”, named after Lockheed’s glitzy but rather unsuccessful WWII fighter, the P-38. A cursory look at the record of the F-35’s namesake is convincing evidence that we need to find a new name for the JSF, quickly.

The darling of the Army Air Corps in the early 1940s and of vintage fighter buffs today, the P-38 was the high tech and high cost wonder of its time. It pioneered twin engines (with counter-rotating props and turbo-chargers), tricycle landing gear, stainless steel structural components, and a radical airframe design. At a time when fighters cost about $50,000, it cracked the $100,000 mark. Even so, it got torn apart so badly in dogfights against the far smaller, more agile, faster-climbing Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs that it had to be withdrawn from the skies over Germany as a fighter — in favor of the far more effective, half as expensive P-51. Relegated to the minor leagues of reconnaissance and ground support in Europe, mostly in Italy, the P-38 proved itself equally inadequate in ground attack; it was simply too flammable and too easily downed by rifle and machine gun fire.

Setting aside the not-so-proud history of the P-38, the Lightning II moniker is a poor fit for the F-35. Despite the F-35’s whopping (and still growing) $122 million per copy price tag, the Air Force and other advocates pretend it is the low-priced, affordable spread in fighter-bombers. Though horrendously overburdened with every high tech weight and drag inducing goodie the aviation bureaucracy in the Pentagon can cram in, the Lightning II is hardly a pioneer, being little more than a pastiche of pre-existing air-to-air and air-to-ground technology – albeit with vastly more complexified computer programs. The P-38 Lightning of the twenty-first century it is surely not, especially for those who hold the P-38 in undeserved high regard.

In the interests of giving credit where credit is due, a more historically fitting moniker for the F-35 would be “Aardvark II.” Aardvark–literally ground pig in Afrikaans–was the nickname pilots (and ultimately the Air Force) gave to the F-111–and for good reasons. The F-111 was the tri-Service, tri-mission fighter-bomber of the 60s, and also a legendary disaster. The F-35 is rapidly earning its place as the Aardvark’s true heir.

There are astonishing parallels between the two programs.

Both airplanes started life as misconceived USAF bombing-oriented designs, then were cobbled into “joint”, tri-Service Rube Goldbergs by Pentagon R&D civilians fronting for high complexity, big bucks programs advocated by industry. At birth, the F-111 was the Tactical Air Command’s 60,000 pound baby nuclear bomber designed around two high tech hooks: the glitzy swing-wing that NASA was pushing hard (now thoroughly discredited as a lousy idea) and the first big, complicated bombing radar on a so-called fighter.

In 1961, R&D chief Dr. Harold Brown (later President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Defense) sold then-SecDef Robert McNamara on the inestimable efficiencies of turning the F-111 into a common design for the Air Force, Navy, and Strategic Air Command, blithely asserting that it would be a piece of cake to incorporate in one airplane nuclear bombing, conventional bombing, air-to-air dogfighting, radar interception for the fleet, and even close support of ground forces. This fantasy called for buying 1,706 of these do-everything wunderwaffen at a bargain basement price of $2.9 million per copy, to be achieved by the wonders of the ephemeral “learning curve” wishfully attributed to such long production runs.

Quite similarly, the F-35 started life in 1991 as the USAF’s Multi-Role Fighter (MRF), a multi-mission bomber and fighter (mostly bomber) to replace the F-16. In other words, the plane’s real mission was not a well-defined combat task but rather to be the “low” end, yeoman-like counterpart to the more refined “high” end F-22 fighter. This was simply slavish adherence to the Air Staff’s simple-minded, misbegotten 30-year-old dogma of a “high/low force mix,” a slogan originally concocted to sell the F-15/F-16 mixed fighter buy to the Congress in 1974.

In 1993, the Pentagon’s civilian high tech fantasists in the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA) crossbred the Air Force’s MRF concept with a stealthy, supersonic, vertical takeoff, ultra-complex pipedream that DARPA and Lockheed had been secretly sponsoring for six years. The marriage, urged on by Lockheed, turned the Air Force’s single service, multi-role MRF into a common (well, almost common) design that would perform interdiction bombing, air-to-air, fleet air defense, and close support for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. DARPA dubbed their tri-Service concoction the Combined Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF).

Once again promising the imagined cost savings of a multi-role, multi-service aircraft, DARPA sold the concept to another unsuspecting secretary of defense, former congressman Les Aspin. He added the necessary political gloss by endorsing the project in his 1993 Bottom Up Review (BUR), the progenitor of future successive waves of bureaucratic self-review, persistently sold as DoD “transformation” and now called “Quadrennial Defense Reviews.” For the BUR, DARPA and Aspin’s coterie of newcomers to Pentagon procurement fiascos renamed the project JAST (Joint Advanced Strike Technology). Congress laid on generous funds and by the end 1996 two JAST technology demonstrator (not prototype) contracts at three quarters of a billion dollars each were awarded, one to Lockheed and one to recent entrant Boeing–thereby creating the veneer, if not the actuality, of competitive prototypes. The alphabet soup chefs celebrated the signing with yet another name change: JAST became JSF, the Joint Strike Fighter. The new JSF office promptly floated a plan, very much in the F-111 tradition, for loading up the Services with a long production run of nearly 3,000 planes at an ever-so-affordable cost of $28 to $38 million each.

Unlike the marketing appeal of the F-111’s super sexy swing wing, the JSF’s high tech allure was a bit wan: a warmed-over, lesser version of the F-22’s stealth; a little more data-linking; a few more bombing computers than the F-22 and way less air-to-air maneuverability (not that the F-22 was any world beater). The only real firsts were a helmet-mounted sight that displays everything in the world except internet video and the Encyclopedia Britannica–and a bank of onboard computers requiring a horrific 7.5 million lines of software code.

Both the initial F-111 and the F-35 designs–each grossly too heavy and hideously lacking in maneuverability from the very start–were further compromised by the bureaucratically invented requirement to serve multiple missions and multiple Services. The F-111’s drag was greatly increased by the Navy’s perfectly senseless requirement for side-by-side seating; the structural weight and the production commonality was compromised by having a different wing and nose section for the Air Force and Navy versions; and the Navy-instigated switch to an unsuitable high bypass fan engine caused endless problems with inlets, compressor stalls and excessive aft end drag. Similarly, the F-35, already overweight, has suffered serious structural weight penalties to accommodate the Navy’s much larger wing and carrier landing requirements as well as the Marines’ fattened Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) fan-carrying fuselage midsection with its shrunken bomb bay. The impact of the three Services’ disparate specifications is huge: the Government Accountability Office has found that only 30 percent of components of the F-35’s three models are shared. So much for commonality savings.

The funding for both the F-111 and the F-35 benefited from herculean PR efforts to tout their unparalleled effectiveness in each one of their multiple missions: air-to-air, deep strike bombing, air defense interception, and close support. In truth, neither plane has (or had) any real multi-mission ability at all. They can serve only as lumbering, loss-prone bomb trucks, vulnerable to antiaircraft guns at low altitude because of their thin skins and appallingly flammable fuel-surrounded engines—and equally vulnerable to surface to air missiles (SAMs) due to their hopelessly inadequate maneuverability.

In urgent need of PR to prop up the F-111’s already tarnished image and fading funding, the Air Force rushed six Aardvarks into Vietnam combat in early 1968. Though they flew only night bombing missions (for which combat losses are typically negligible) in the least defended areas, three were lost in the first 55 missions. Accuracy of the much-vaunted radar bombing system was another black eye: half the bombs hit a half mile or more from the target. An embarrassingly hasty withdrawal from combat ensued.

In 1972, the F-111s tried a second turn in the combat limelight. The very first six-ship mission had four planes abort due to system failures; one never found the target and one reached the target but never returned. In toto, the 48 F-111s deployed only managed to fly about once every 2 ½ days. Flying night-only in low threat areas, they managed to lose 10 birds in the next six months. Day bombing was not attempted, and even the Air Force was not mindless enough to fly a single F-111 sortie anywhere near an enemy fighter. Nor, needless to say, did they fly a single close support sortie.

Similarly–and for the same reasons of unmaneuverability and high flammability–Air Force and Navy F-35s in combat will never fly anything but bomb truck missions in lightly defended areas out of reach of enemy fighters. As for the Marines’ range- and payload-limited, problem ridden, highly vulnerable STOVL F-35B, it will never deliver close support to a grunt on the ground from less than 10,000 feet without an ironclad guarantee that there’s not an AAA gun or shoulder-fired missile within five miles. With the F-35B’s miniscule loiter time, the grunts can forget about all-day air cover–a crucial component of effective close support in any war. Nor will the STOVL capability, a Marine Corps do-or-die requirement, ever let the F-35B operate impromptu close to the grunts in the foxholes. It can fly only from prepared concrete landing pads; a landing in the dirt close to the troops is sure to destroy the engine every time. Even flying off Marine/Navy ships may never happen: right now, the heat of the lift fan exhaust buckles the deck of any existing carrier or amphibious warfare ship.

High-tech dilettantes claimed (and claim) vociferously that both the F-111 and the F-35 could not be found or shot down by ground air defenses: the F-111 by virtue of its high speed and low altitude terrain following radar; the F-35 by virtue of its stealth. The terrain following radar proved to be a loser, costing several F-111s in Vietnam combat. As for the F-35’s stealth, it is easily detected by ancient-technology long wavelength search radars, which the Russians are happy to update and sell all over the world. Against shorter wavelength SAM and fighter radars, the stealth helps only over a very narrow cone of angles. These realities were an unpleasant surprise to our stealthy F-117s in the Kosovo air war in 1999. Against the Serbs’ antiquated Russian radar defenses, one F-117 was shot down and another so badly damaged it never flew again – a loss count twice that of the non-stealthy aircraft in the campaign. It is true, however, that the F-35, like the F-111 before it, will be hard to find in combat, though for other reasons: their long and frequent stays in the maintenance hangar dictate rather rare appearances over enemy skies.

Both Aardvark programs, the F-111 and the F-35, counted on foreign sales to keep unit costs down. The USAF and the Pentagon spent years marketing the F-111 to the UK, Australia and others. The UK bailed out of the F-111, and Australia unhappily learned to live with the ground pigs we talked them into. The F-35 program counts much more heavily on pie-in-the-sky foreign sales; six months ago the Pentagon’s program manager was touting the potential sale of thousands, well beyond the established plans for 730 for eight known foreign buyers. However, the UK is reported to be about to halve its F-35 buy, and a vocal faction in Australia wants to cancel their entire F-35 buy. Other foreign buyers are nervously monitoring F-35 cost growth, delays, and performance compromises.

The first Aardvark program produced one-third the number of planes planned at over five times the unit cost: 1,706 were planned at $2.9 million unit cost–in contrast to an actual 541 built at $15.1 million each, in 1960’s dollars. The F-35 was originally sold on the basis of buying 2,866 planes — for the US only — at $28 to $38 million each in contemporary dollars. Those Aardvark II promises are long gone; the current official estimate is to buy 2,456 aircraft for a combined research, development, and procurement cost of $299 billion, or $122 million each. The cost growth is far from over. A courageously independent evaluation group in the Pentagon, known as the Joint Estimating Team (JET), is predicting two or more years of delay and $16 billion or more in further cost growth – just for the next few years.

Again, however, that is just the tip of the iceberg. With 97% of flight test hours still unflown, we are certainly facing billions of dollars more in major rework to correct flight test failures sure to be found throughout the airplane: airframe, engine, electronics and software. Then, because the flight test program is designed to explore only 17 percent of the F-35’s flight characteristics, still more problems are sure to be found after the aircraft is deployed – at the potential expense of pilot lives and, of course, lots more money. In the end, expect F-35 unit cost to exceed $200 million. That means there’s no way our budgets will ever find room to buy 2,456 of them and, most probably, not half that number.

Another F-35 problem yet to be broached is the Navy’s very likely backing out of the program, a repeat of the Navy’s little known undermining of the F-111 program. The 1961 McNamara-Brown plan for a tri-Service F-111 was an illusion from the start. From the earliest days, Navy admirals were saying in private that the USN had no intention of ever building the carrier-based F-111B. They signed on to McNamara’s F-111 plan in order to extract funding for the engine (TF-30) and missile/radar (Phoenix/AWG-9) for their ardently desired all-Navy fighter. The USN was secretly developing that fighter, the F-14, with Grumman, the Navy-favored contractor they had planted inside the F-111 program to provide GD, ostensibly, with the carrier expertise to design the F-111B. In 1968, the year of the first sizable dollar commitments to F-111B production, the Navy announced that the F-111B’s carrier landing performance was unacceptably dangerous–a more-than-questionable assertion since the Navy’s in-service RA-5C Vigilantes had far worse carrier landing characteristics (and the F-14 itself would soon prove more dangerous than the F-111B in carrier landing characteristics). Simultaneously, the Navy told Congress it had in hand the design for a far better swing-wing fighter than the F-111, and it could build the aircraft right away for the same money as the F-111B. The Congress willingly went along with the gambit and authorized the Navy to apply the F-111B procurement money to the F-14.

The F-35 seems to be following the same trajectory. The Navy has been quietly reducing the number of Navy F-35Cs in the program plan and converting them to Marine F-35Bs. Alternatives to the F-35C have been discussed, and at least one has been briefed to top Pentagon managers. Meanwhile, both in the Navy budget and under the table with Congress, the Navy has successfully pushed for increased buys of their F-18E/F (an almost equally unworthy fighter and not much of a bomber). The Navy’s budget for F-35Cs is scheduled to steeply increase to $9 billion in fiscal year 2012. Expect the Navy to announce sometime before that the F-35C is simply carrier unsuitable. That will surely be accompanied by a simultaneous pitch that a hot new version of the F-18 is in hand, one that will cost less than the F-35C (which will not be difficult) and whose faster deliveries will cure the fighter “gap” that is causing the Navy to lose two much-lamented carriers from its future force.

The success of that pitch will spell the death knell of the F-35 program. Unit costs will automatically jump to a new peak. The performance deficiencies the Navy is sure to reveal at that point will add a sack heavy enough to bow the camel’s back, and the F-35 program will become nothing but a mad scramble to uncommit from as many Aardvark IIs as possible.

In the midst of their escalating program failures, both the F-111 and F-35 continued to be ever more intensely advertised as the future of U.S. combat aviation, the sine qua non of America’s continued domination of the skies anywhere in the world, and…

Both crapped out.

It’s all over but the shouting–and the wasting of many, many billions more before we’re rid of the second pig.

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C..

Pierre M. Sprey, together with Cols John Boyd and Everest Riccioni, brought to fruition the F-16; he also led the design team for the A-10 and helped implement the program.

Both Wheeler and Sprey are authors of chapters in the anthology “America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress.”


Winslow T. Wheeler: A Tale of Two Pigs

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

(This essay is jointly written by Winslow T. Wheeler and Pierre M. Sprey.)

The Pentagon has a time honored tradition of assigning PR nicknames to its aircraft. The moniker of Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is “Lightning II”, named after Lockheed’s glitzy but rather unsuccessful WWII fighter, the P-38. A cursory look at the record of the F-35’s namesake is convincing evidence that we need to find a new name for the JSF, quickly.

The darling of the Army Air Corps in the early 1940s and of vintage fighter buffs today, the P-38 was the high tech and high cost wonder of its time. It pioneered twin engines (with counter-rotating props and turbo-chargers), tricycle landing gear, stainless steel structural components, and a radical airframe design. At a time when fighters cost about $50,000, it cracked the $100,000 mark. Even so, it got torn apart so badly in dogfights against the far smaller, more agile, faster-climbing Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs that it had to be withdrawn from the skies over Germany as a fighter — in favor of the far more effective, half as expensive P-51. Relegated to the minor leagues of reconnaissance and ground support in Europe, mostly in Italy, the P-38 proved itself equally inadequate in ground attack; it was simply too flammable and too easily downed by rifle and machine gun fire.

Setting aside the not-so-proud history of the P-38, the Lightning II moniker is a poor fit for the F-35. Despite the F-35’s whopping (and still growing) $122 million per copy price tag, the Air Force and other advocates pretend it is the low-priced, affordable spread in fighter-bombers. Though horrendously overburdened with every high tech weight and drag inducing goodie the aviation bureaucracy in the Pentagon can cram in, the Lightning II is hardly a pioneer, being little more than a pastiche of pre-existing air-to-air and air-to-ground technology – albeit with vastly more complexified computer programs. The P-38 Lightning of the twenty-first century it is surely not, especially for those who hold the P-38 in undeserved high regard.

In the interests of giving credit where credit is due, a more historically fitting moniker for the F-35 would be “Aardvark II.” Aardvark–literally ground pig in Afrikaans–was the nickname pilots (and ultimately the Air Force) gave to the F-111–and for good reasons. The F-111 was the tri-Service, tri-mission fighter-bomber of the 60s, and also a legendary disaster. The F-35 is rapidly earning its place as the Aardvark’s true heir.

There are astonishing parallels between the two programs.

Both airplanes started life as misconceived USAF bombing-oriented designs, then were cobbled into “joint”, tri-Service Rube Goldbergs by Pentagon R&D civilians fronting for high complexity, big bucks programs advocated by industry. At birth, the F-111 was the Tactical Air Command’s 60,000 pound baby nuclear bomber designed around two high tech hooks: the glitzy swing-wing that NASA was pushing hard (now thoroughly discredited as a lousy idea) and the first big, complicated bombing radar on a so-called fighter.

In 1961, R&D chief Dr. Harold Brown (later President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Defense) sold then-SecDef Robert McNamara on the inestimable efficiencies of turning the F-111 into a common design for the Air Force, Navy, and Strategic Air Command, blithely asserting that it would be a piece of cake to incorporate in one airplane nuclear bombing, conventional bombing, air-to-air dogfighting, radar interception for the fleet, and even close support of ground forces. This fantasy called for buying 1,706 of these do-everything wunderwaffen at a bargain basement price of $2.9 million per copy, to be achieved by the wonders of the ephemeral “learning curve” wishfully attributed to such long production runs.

Quite similarly, the F-35 started life in 1991 as the USAF’s Multi-Role Fighter (MRF), a multi-mission bomber and fighter (mostly bomber) to replace the F-16. In other words, the plane’s real mission was not a well-defined combat task but rather to be the “low” end, yeoman-like counterpart to the more refined “high” end F-22 fighter. This was simply slavish adherence to the Air Staff’s simple-minded, misbegotten 30-year-old dogma of a “high/low force mix,” a slogan originally concocted to sell the F-15/F-16 mixed fighter buy to the Congress in 1974.

In 1993, the Pentagon’s civilian high tech fantasists in the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA) crossbred the Air Force’s MRF concept with a stealthy, supersonic, vertical takeoff, ultra-complex pipedream that DARPA and Lockheed had been secretly sponsoring for six years. The marriage, urged on by Lockheed, turned the Air Force’s single service, multi-role MRF into a common (well, almost common) design that would perform interdiction bombing, air-to-air, fleet air defense, and close support for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. DARPA dubbed their tri-Service concoction the Combined Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF).

Once again promising the imagined cost savings of a multi-role, multi-service aircraft, DARPA sold the concept to another unsuspecting secretary of defense, former congressman Les Aspin. He added the necessary political gloss by endorsing the project in his 1993 Bottom Up Review (BUR), the progenitor of future successive waves of bureaucratic self-review, persistently sold as DoD “transformation” and now called “Quadrennial Defense Reviews.” For the BUR, DARPA and Aspin’s coterie of newcomers to Pentagon procurement fiascos renamed the project JAST (Joint Advanced Strike Technology). Congress laid on generous funds and by the end 1996 two JAST technology demonstrator (not prototype) contracts at three quarters of a billion dollars each were awarded, one to Lockheed and one to recent entrant Boeing–thereby creating the veneer, if not the actuality, of competitive prototypes. The alphabet soup chefs celebrated the signing with yet another name change: JAST became JSF, the Joint Strike Fighter. The new JSF office promptly floated a plan, very much in the F-111 tradition, for loading up the Services with a long production run of nearly 3,000 planes at an ever-so-affordable cost of $28 to $38 million each.

Unlike the marketing appeal of the F-111’s super sexy swing wing, the JSF’s high tech allure was a bit wan: a warmed-over, lesser version of the F-22’s stealth; a little more data-linking; a few more bombing computers than the F-22 and way less air-to-air maneuverability (not that the F-22 was any world beater). The only real firsts were a helmet-mounted sight that displays everything in the world except internet video and the Encyclopedia Britannica–and a bank of onboard computers requiring a horrific 7.5 million lines of software code.

Both the initial F-111 and the F-35 designs–each grossly too heavy and hideously lacking in maneuverability from the very start–were further compromised by the bureaucratically invented requirement to serve multiple missions and multiple Services. The F-111’s drag was greatly increased by the Navy’s perfectly senseless requirement for side-by-side seating; the structural weight and the production commonality was compromised by having a different wing and nose section for the Air Force and Navy versions; and the Navy-instigated switch to an unsuitable high bypass fan engine caused endless problems with inlets, compressor stalls and excessive aft end drag. Similarly, the F-35, already overweight, has suffered serious structural weight penalties to accommodate the Navy’s much larger wing and carrier landing requirements as well as the Marines’ fattened Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) fan-carrying fuselage midsection with its shrunken bomb bay. The impact of the three Services’ disparate specifications is huge: the Government Accountability Office has found that only 30 percent of components of the F-35’s three models are shared. So much for commonality savings.

The funding for both the F-111 and the F-35 benefited from herculean PR efforts to tout their unparalleled effectiveness in each one of their multiple missions: air-to-air, deep strike bombing, air defense interception, and close support. In truth, neither plane has (or had) any real multi-mission ability at all. They can serve only as lumbering, loss-prone bomb trucks, vulnerable to antiaircraft guns at low altitude because of their thin skins and appallingly flammable fuel-surrounded engines—and equally vulnerable to surface to air missiles (SAMs) due to their hopelessly inadequate maneuverability.

In urgent need of PR to prop up the F-111’s already tarnished image and fading funding, the Air Force rushed six Aardvarks into Vietnam combat in early 1968. Though they flew only night bombing missions (for which combat losses are typically negligible) in the least defended areas, three were lost in the first 55 missions. Accuracy of the much-vaunted radar bombing system was another black eye: half the bombs hit a half mile or more from the target. An embarrassingly hasty withdrawal from combat ensued.

In 1972, the F-111s tried a second turn in the combat limelight. The very first six-ship mission had four planes abort due to system failures; one never found the target and one reached the target but never returned. In toto, the 48 F-111s deployed only managed to fly about once every 2 ½ days. Flying night-only in low threat areas, they managed to lose 10 birds in the next six months. Day bombing was not attempted, and even the Air Force was not mindless enough to fly a single F-111 sortie anywhere near an enemy fighter. Nor, needless to say, did they fly a single close support sortie.

Similarly–and for the same reasons of unmaneuverability and high flammability–Air Force and Navy F-35s in combat will never fly anything but bomb truck missions in lightly defended areas out of reach of enemy fighters. As for the Marines’ range- and payload-limited, problem ridden, highly vulnerable STOVL F-35B, it will never deliver close support to a grunt on the ground from less than 10,000 feet without an ironclad guarantee that there’s not an AAA gun or shoulder-fired missile within five miles. With the F-35B’s miniscule loiter time, the grunts can forget about all-day air cover–a crucial component of effective close support in any war. Nor will the STOVL capability, a Marine Corps do-or-die requirement, ever let the F-35B operate impromptu close to the grunts in the foxholes. It can fly only from prepared concrete landing pads; a landing in the dirt close to the troops is sure to destroy the engine every time. Even flying off Marine/Navy ships may never happen: right now, the heat of the lift fan exhaust buckles the deck of any existing carrier or amphibious warfare ship.

High-tech dilettantes claimed (and claim) vociferously that both the F-111 and the F-35 could not be found or shot down by ground air defenses: the F-111 by virtue of its high speed and low altitude terrain following radar; the F-35 by virtue of its stealth. The terrain following radar proved to be a loser, costing several F-111s in Vietnam combat. As for the F-35’s stealth, it is easily detected by ancient-technology long wavelength search radars, which the Russians are happy to update and sell all over the world. Against shorter wavelength SAM and fighter radars, the stealth helps only over a very narrow cone of angles. These realities were an unpleasant surprise to our stealthy F-117s in the Kosovo air war in 1999. Against the Serbs’ antiquated Russian radar defenses, one F-117 was shot down and another so badly damaged it never flew again – a loss count twice that of the non-stealthy aircraft in the campaign. It is true, however, that the F-35, like the F-111 before it, will be hard to find in combat, though for other reasons: their long and frequent stays in the maintenance hangar dictate rather rare appearances over enemy skies.

Both Aardvark programs, the F-111 and the F-35, counted on foreign sales to keep unit costs down. The USAF and the Pentagon spent years marketing the F-111 to the UK, Australia and others. The UK bailed out of the F-111, and Australia unhappily learned to live with the ground pigs we talked them into. The F-35 program counts much more heavily on pie-in-the-sky foreign sales; six months ago the Pentagon’s program manager was touting the potential sale of thousands, well beyond the established plans for 730 for eight known foreign buyers. However, the UK is reported to be about to halve its F-35 buy, and a vocal faction in Australia wants to cancel their entire F-35 buy. Other foreign buyers are nervously monitoring F-35 cost growth, delays, and performance compromises.

The first Aardvark program produced one-third the number of planes planned at over five times the unit cost: 1,706 were planned at $2.9 million unit cost–in contrast to an actual 541 built at $15.1 million each, in 1960’s dollars. The F-35 was originally sold on the basis of buying 2,866 planes — for the US only — at $28 to $38 million each in contemporary dollars. Those Aardvark II promises are long gone; the current official estimate is to buy 2,456 aircraft for a combined research, development, and procurement cost of $299 billion, or $122 million each. The cost growth is far from over. A courageously independent evaluation group in the Pentagon, known as the Joint Estimating Team (JET), is predicting two or more years of delay and $16 billion or more in further cost growth – just for the next few years.

Again, however, that is just the tip of the iceberg. With 97% of flight test hours still unflown, we are certainly facing billions of dollars more in major rework to correct flight test failures sure to be found throughout the airplane: airframe, engine, electronics and software. Then, because the flight test program is designed to explore only 17 percent of the F-35’s flight characteristics, still more problems are sure to be found after the aircraft is deployed – at the potential expense of pilot lives and, of course, lots more money. In the end, expect F-35 unit cost to exceed $200 million. That means there’s no way our budgets will ever find room to buy 2,456 of them and, most probably, not half that number.

Another F-35 problem yet to be broached is the Navy’s very likely backing out of the program, a repeat of the Navy’s little known undermining of the F-111 program. The 1961 McNamara-Brown plan for a tri-Service F-111 was an illusion from the start. From the earliest days, Navy admirals were saying in private that the USN had no intention of ever building the carrier-based F-111B. They signed on to McNamara’s F-111 plan in order to extract funding for the engine (TF-30) and missile/radar (Phoenix/AWG-9) for their ardently desired all-Navy fighter. The USN was secretly developing that fighter, the F-14, with Grumman, the Navy-favored contractor they had planted inside the F-111 program to provide GD, ostensibly, with the carrier expertise to design the F-111B. In 1968, the year of the first sizable dollar commitments to F-111B production, the Navy announced that the F-111B’s carrier landing performance was unacceptably dangerous–a more-than-questionable assertion since the Navy’s in-service RA-5C Vigilantes had far worse carrier landing characteristics (and the F-14 itself would soon prove more dangerous than the F-111B in carrier landing characteristics). Simultaneously, the Navy told Congress it had in hand the design for a far better swing-wing fighter than the F-111, and it could build the aircraft right away for the same money as the F-111B. The Congress willingly went along with the gambit and authorized the Navy to apply the F-111B procurement money to the F-14.

The F-35 seems to be following the same trajectory. The Navy has been quietly reducing the number of Navy F-35Cs in the program plan and converting them to Marine F-35Bs. Alternatives to the F-35C have been discussed, and at least one has been briefed to top Pentagon managers. Meanwhile, both in the Navy budget and under the table with Congress, the Navy has successfully pushed for increased buys of their F-18E/F (an almost equally unworthy fighter and not much of a bomber). The Navy’s budget for F-35Cs is scheduled to steeply increase to $9 billion in fiscal year 2012. Expect the Navy to announce sometime before that the F-35C is simply carrier unsuitable. That will surely be accompanied by a simultaneous pitch that a hot new version of the F-18 is in hand, one that will cost less than the F-35C (which will not be difficult) and whose faster deliveries will cure the fighter “gap” that is causing the Navy to lose two much-lamented carriers from its future force.

The success of that pitch will spell the death knell of the F-35 program. Unit costs will automatically jump to a new peak. The performance deficiencies the Navy is sure to reveal at that point will add a sack heavy enough to bow the camel’s back, and the F-35 program will become nothing but a mad scramble to uncommit from as many Aardvark IIs as possible.

In the midst of their escalating program failures, both the F-111 and F-35 continued to be ever more intensely advertised as the future of U.S. combat aviation, the sine qua non of America’s continued domination of the skies anywhere in the world, and…

Both crapped out.

It’s all over but the shouting–and the wasting of many, many billions more before we’re rid of the second pig.

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C..

Pierre M. Sprey, together with Cols John Boyd and Everest Riccioni, brought to fruition the F-16; he also led the design team for the A-10 and helped implement the program.

Both Wheeler and Sprey are authors of chapters in the anthology “America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress.”


Winslow T. Wheeler: A Tale of Two Pigs

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

(This essay is jointly written by Winslow T. Wheeler and Pierre M. Sprey.)

The Pentagon has a time honored tradition of assigning PR nicknames to its aircraft. The moniker of Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is “Lightning II”, named after Lockheed’s glitzy but rather unsuccessful WWII fighter, the P-38. A cursory look at the record of the F-35’s namesake is convincing evidence that we need to find a new name for the JSF, quickly.

The darling of the Army Air Corps in the early 1940s and of vintage fighter buffs today, the P-38 was the high tech and high cost wonder of its time. It pioneered twin engines (with counter-rotating props and turbo-chargers), tricycle landing gear, stainless steel structural components, and a radical airframe design. At a time when fighters cost about $50,000, it cracked the $100,000 mark. Even so, it got torn apart so badly in dogfights against the far smaller, more agile, faster-climbing Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs that it had to be withdrawn from the skies over Germany as a fighter — in favor of the far more effective, half as expensive P-51. Relegated to the minor leagues of reconnaissance and ground support in Europe, mostly in Italy, the P-38 proved itself equally inadequate in ground attack; it was simply too flammable and too easily downed by rifle and machine gun fire.

Setting aside the not-so-proud history of the P-38, the Lightning II moniker is a poor fit for the F-35. Despite the F-35’s whopping (and still growing) $122 million per copy price tag, the Air Force and other advocates pretend it is the low-priced, affordable spread in fighter-bombers. Though horrendously overburdened with every high tech weight and drag inducing goodie the aviation bureaucracy in the Pentagon can cram in, the Lightning II is hardly a pioneer, being little more than a pastiche of pre-existing air-to-air and air-to-ground technology – albeit with vastly more complexified computer programs. The P-38 Lightning of the twenty-first century it is surely not, especially for those who hold the P-38 in undeserved high regard.

In the interests of giving credit where credit is due, a more historically fitting moniker for the F-35 would be “Aardvark II.” Aardvark–literally ground pig in Afrikaans–was the nickname pilots (and ultimately the Air Force) gave to the F-111–and for good reasons. The F-111 was the tri-Service, tri-mission fighter-bomber of the 60s, and also a legendary disaster. The F-35 is rapidly earning its place as the Aardvark’s true heir.

There are astonishing parallels between the two programs.

Both airplanes started life as misconceived USAF bombing-oriented designs, then were cobbled into “joint”, tri-Service Rube Goldbergs by Pentagon R&D civilians fronting for high complexity, big bucks programs advocated by industry. At birth, the F-111 was the Tactical Air Command’s 60,000 pound baby nuclear bomber designed around two high tech hooks: the glitzy swing-wing that NASA was pushing hard (now thoroughly discredited as a lousy idea) and the first big, complicated bombing radar on a so-called fighter.

In 1961, R&D chief Dr. Harold Brown (later President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Defense) sold then-SecDef Robert McNamara on the inestimable efficiencies of turning the F-111 into a common design for the Air Force, Navy, and Strategic Air Command, blithely asserting that it would be a piece of cake to incorporate in one airplane nuclear bombing, conventional bombing, air-to-air dogfighting, radar interception for the fleet, and even close support of ground forces. This fantasy called for buying 1,706 of these do-everything wunderwaffen at a bargain basement price of $2.9 million per copy, to be achieved by the wonders of the ephemeral “learning curve” wishfully attributed to such long production runs.

Quite similarly, the F-35 started life in 1991 as the USAF’s Multi-Role Fighter (MRF), a multi-mission bomber and fighter (mostly bomber) to replace the F-16. In other words, the plane’s real mission was not a well-defined combat task but rather to be the “low” end, yeoman-like counterpart to the more refined “high” end F-22 fighter. This was simply slavish adherence to the Air Staff’s simple-minded, misbegotten 30-year-old dogma of a “high/low force mix,” a slogan originally concocted to sell the F-15/F-16 mixed fighter buy to the Congress in 1974.

In 1993, the Pentagon’s civilian high tech fantasists in the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA) crossbred the Air Force’s MRF concept with a stealthy, supersonic, vertical takeoff, ultra-complex pipedream that DARPA and Lockheed had been secretly sponsoring for six years. The marriage, urged on by Lockheed, turned the Air Force’s single service, multi-role MRF into a common (well, almost common) design that would perform interdiction bombing, air-to-air, fleet air defense, and close support for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. DARPA dubbed their tri-Service concoction the Combined Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF).

Once again promising the imagined cost savings of a multi-role, multi-service aircraft, DARPA sold the concept to another unsuspecting secretary of defense, former congressman Les Aspin. He added the necessary political gloss by endorsing the project in his 1993 Bottom Up Review (BUR), the progenitor of future successive waves of bureaucratic self-review, persistently sold as DoD “transformation” and now called “Quadrennial Defense Reviews.” For the BUR, DARPA and Aspin’s coterie of newcomers to Pentagon procurement fiascos renamed the project JAST (Joint Advanced Strike Technology). Congress laid on generous funds and by the end 1996 two JAST technology demonstrator (not prototype) contracts at three quarters of a billion dollars each were awarded, one to Lockheed and one to recent entrant Boeing–thereby creating the veneer, if not the actuality, of competitive prototypes. The alphabet soup chefs celebrated the signing with yet another name change: JAST became JSF, the Joint Strike Fighter. The new JSF office promptly floated a plan, very much in the F-111 tradition, for loading up the Services with a long production run of nearly 3,000 planes at an ever-so-affordable cost of $28 to $38 million each.

Unlike the marketing appeal of the F-111’s super sexy swing wing, the JSF’s high tech allure was a bit wan: a warmed-over, lesser version of the F-22’s stealth; a little more data-linking; a few more bombing computers than the F-22 and way less air-to-air maneuverability (not that the F-22 was any world beater). The only real firsts were a helmet-mounted sight that displays everything in the world except internet video and the Encyclopedia Britannica–and a bank of onboard computers requiring a horrific 7.5 million lines of software code.

Both the initial F-111 and the F-35 designs–each grossly too heavy and hideously lacking in maneuverability from the very start–were further compromised by the bureaucratically invented requirement to serve multiple missions and multiple Services. The F-111’s drag was greatly increased by the Navy’s perfectly senseless requirement for side-by-side seating; the structural weight and the production commonality was compromised by having a different wing and nose section for the Air Force and Navy versions; and the Navy-instigated switch to an unsuitable high bypass fan engine caused endless problems with inlets, compressor stalls and excessive aft end drag. Similarly, the F-35, already overweight, has suffered serious structural weight penalties to accommodate the Navy’s much larger wing and carrier landing requirements as well as the Marines’ fattened Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) fan-carrying fuselage midsection with its shrunken bomb bay. The impact of the three Services’ disparate specifications is huge: the Government Accountability Office has found that only 30 percent of components of the F-35’s three models are shared. So much for commonality savings.

The funding for both the F-111 and the F-35 benefited from herculean PR efforts to tout their unparalleled effectiveness in each one of their multiple missions: air-to-air, deep strike bombing, air defense interception, and close support. In truth, neither plane has (or had) any real multi-mission ability at all. They can serve only as lumbering, loss-prone bomb trucks, vulnerable to antiaircraft guns at low altitude because of their thin skins and appallingly flammable fuel-surrounded engines—and equally vulnerable to surface to air missiles (SAMs) due to their hopelessly inadequate maneuverability.

In urgent need of PR to prop up the F-111’s already tarnished image and fading funding, the Air Force rushed six Aardvarks into Vietnam combat in early 1968. Though they flew only night bombing missions (for which combat losses are typically negligible) in the least defended areas, three were lost in the first 55 missions. Accuracy of the much-vaunted radar bombing system was another black eye: half the bombs hit a half mile or more from the target. An embarrassingly hasty withdrawal from combat ensued.

In 1972, the F-111s tried a second turn in the combat limelight. The very first six-ship mission had four planes abort due to system failures; one never found the target and one reached the target but never returned. In toto, the 48 F-111s deployed only managed to fly about once every 2 ½ days. Flying night-only in low threat areas, they managed to lose 10 birds in the next six months. Day bombing was not attempted, and even the Air Force was not mindless enough to fly a single F-111 sortie anywhere near an enemy fighter. Nor, needless to say, did they fly a single close support sortie.

Similarly–and for the same reasons of unmaneuverability and high flammability–Air Force and Navy F-35s in combat will never fly anything but bomb truck missions in lightly defended areas out of reach of enemy fighters. As for the Marines’ range- and payload-limited, problem ridden, highly vulnerable STOVL F-35B, it will never deliver close support to a grunt on the ground from less than 10,000 feet without an ironclad guarantee that there’s not an AAA gun or shoulder-fired missile within five miles. With the F-35B’s miniscule loiter time, the grunts can forget about all-day air cover–a crucial component of effective close support in any war. Nor will the STOVL capability, a Marine Corps do-or-die requirement, ever let the F-35B operate impromptu close to the grunts in the foxholes. It can fly only from prepared concrete landing pads; a landing in the dirt close to the troops is sure to destroy the engine every time. Even flying off Marine/Navy ships may never happen: right now, the heat of the lift fan exhaust buckles the deck of any existing carrier or amphibious warfare ship.

High-tech dilettantes claimed (and claim) vociferously that both the F-111 and the F-35 could not be found or shot down by ground air defenses: the F-111 by virtue of its high speed and low altitude terrain following radar; the F-35 by virtue of its stealth. The terrain following radar proved to be a loser, costing several F-111s in Vietnam combat. As for the F-35’s stealth, it is easily detected by ancient-technology long wavelength search radars, which the Russians are happy to update and sell all over the world. Against shorter wavelength SAM and fighter radars, the stealth helps only over a very narrow cone of angles. These realities were an unpleasant surprise to our stealthy F-117s in the Kosovo air war in 1999. Against the Serbs’ antiquated Russian radar defenses, one F-117 was shot down and another so badly damaged it never flew again – a loss count twice that of the non-stealthy aircraft in the campaign. It is true, however, that the F-35, like the F-111 before it, will be hard to find in combat, though for other reasons: their long and frequent stays in the maintenance hangar dictate rather rare appearances over enemy skies.

Both Aardvark programs, the F-111 and the F-35, counted on foreign sales to keep unit costs down. The USAF and the Pentagon spent years marketing the F-111 to the UK, Australia and others. The UK bailed out of the F-111, and Australia unhappily learned to live with the ground pigs we talked them into. The F-35 program counts much more heavily on pie-in-the-sky foreign sales; six months ago the Pentagon’s program manager was touting the potential sale of thousands, well beyond the established plans for 730 for eight known foreign buyers. However, the UK is reported to be about to halve its F-35 buy, and a vocal faction in Australia wants to cancel their entire F-35 buy. Other foreign buyers are nervously monitoring F-35 cost growth, delays, and performance compromises.

The first Aardvark program produced one-third the number of planes planned at over five times the unit cost: 1,706 were planned at $2.9 million unit cost–in contrast to an actual 541 built at $15.1 million each, in 1960’s dollars. The F-35 was originally sold on the basis of buying 2,866 planes — for the US only — at $28 to $38 million each in contemporary dollars. Those Aardvark II promises are long gone; the current official estimate is to buy 2,456 aircraft for a combined research, development, and procurement cost of $299 billion, or $122 million each. The cost growth is far from over. A courageously independent evaluation group in the Pentagon, known as the Joint Estimating Team (JET), is predicting two or more years of delay and $16 billion or more in further cost growth – just for the next few years.

Again, however, that is just the tip of the iceberg. With 97% of flight test hours still unflown, we are certainly facing billions of dollars more in major rework to correct flight test failures sure to be found throughout the airplane: airframe, engine, electronics and software. Then, because the flight test program is designed to explore only 17 percent of the F-35’s flight characteristics, still more problems are sure to be found after the aircraft is deployed – at the potential expense of pilot lives and, of course, lots more money. In the end, expect F-35 unit cost to exceed $200 million. That means there’s no way our budgets will ever find room to buy 2,456 of them and, most probably, not half that number.

Another F-35 problem yet to be broached is the Navy’s very likely backing out of the program, a repeat of the Navy’s little known undermining of the F-111 program. The 1961 McNamara-Brown plan for a tri-Service F-111 was an illusion from the start. From the earliest days, Navy admirals were saying in private that the USN had no intention of ever building the carrier-based F-111B. They signed on to McNamara’s F-111 plan in order to extract funding for the engine (TF-30) and missile/radar (Phoenix/AWG-9) for their ardently desired all-Navy fighter. The USN was secretly developing that fighter, the F-14, with Grumman, the Navy-favored contractor they had planted inside the F-111 program to provide GD, ostensibly, with the carrier expertise to design the F-111B. In 1968, the year of the first sizable dollar commitments to F-111B production, the Navy announced that the F-111B’s carrier landing performance was unacceptably dangerous–a more-than-questionable assertion since the Navy’s in-service RA-5C Vigilantes had far worse carrier landing characteristics (and the F-14 itself would soon prove more dangerous than the F-111B in carrier landing characteristics). Simultaneously, the Navy told Congress it had in hand the design for a far better swing-wing fighter than the F-111, and it could build the aircraft right away for the same money as the F-111B. The Congress willingly went along with the gambit and authorized the Navy to apply the F-111B procurement money to the F-14.

The F-35 seems to be following the same trajectory. The Navy has been quietly reducing the number of Navy F-35Cs in the program plan and converting them to Marine F-35Bs. Alternatives to the F-35C have been discussed, and at least one has been briefed to top Pentagon managers. Meanwhile, both in the Navy budget and under the table with Congress, the Navy has successfully pushed for increased buys of their F-18E/F (an almost equally unworthy fighter and not much of a bomber). The Navy’s budget for F-35Cs is scheduled to steeply increase to $9 billion in fiscal year 2012. Expect the Navy to announce sometime before that the F-35C is simply carrier unsuitable. That will surely be accompanied by a simultaneous pitch that a hot new version of the F-18 is in hand, one that will cost less than the F-35C (which will not be difficult) and whose faster deliveries will cure the fighter “gap” that is causing the Navy to lose two much-lamented carriers from its future force.

The success of that pitch will spell the death knell of the F-35 program. Unit costs will automatically jump to a new peak. The performance deficiencies the Navy is sure to reveal at that point will add a sack heavy enough to bow the camel’s back, and the F-35 program will become nothing but a mad scramble to uncommit from as many Aardvark IIs as possible.

In the midst of their escalating program failures, both the F-111 and F-35 continued to be ever more intensely advertised as the future of U.S. combat aviation, the sine qua non of America’s continued domination of the skies anywhere in the world, and…

Both crapped out.

It’s all over but the shouting–and the wasting of many, many billions more before we’re rid of the second pig.

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C..

Pierre M. Sprey, together with Cols John Boyd and Everest Riccioni, brought to fruition the F-16; he also led the design team for the A-10 and helped implement the program.

Both Wheeler and Sprey are authors of chapters in the anthology “America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress.”


Winslow T. Wheeler: A Tale of Two Pigs

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

(This essay is jointly written by Winslow T. Wheeler and Pierre M. Sprey.)

The Pentagon has a time honored tradition of assigning PR nicknames to its aircraft. The moniker of Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is “Lightning II”, named after Lockheed’s glitzy but rather unsuccessful WWII fighter, the P-38. A cursory look at the record of the F-35’s namesake is convincing evidence that we need to find a new name for the JSF, quickly.

The darling of the Army Air Corps in the early 1940s and of vintage fighter buffs today, the P-38 was the high tech and high cost wonder of its time. It pioneered twin engines (with counter-rotating props and turbo-chargers), tricycle landing gear, stainless steel structural components, and a radical airframe design. At a time when fighters cost about $50,000, it cracked the $100,000 mark. Even so, it got torn apart so badly in dogfights against the far smaller, more agile, faster-climbing Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs that it had to be withdrawn from the skies over Germany as a fighter — in favor of the far more effective, half as expensive P-51. Relegated to the minor leagues of reconnaissance and ground support in Europe, mostly in Italy, the P-38 proved itself equally inadequate in ground attack; it was simply too flammable and too easily downed by rifle and machine gun fire.

Setting aside the not-so-proud history of the P-38, the Lightning II moniker is a poor fit for the F-35. Despite the F-35’s whopping (and still growing) $122 million per copy price tag, the Air Force and other advocates pretend it is the low-priced, affordable spread in fighter-bombers. Though horrendously overburdened with every high tech weight and drag inducing goodie the aviation bureaucracy in the Pentagon can cram in, the Lightning II is hardly a pioneer, being little more than a pastiche of pre-existing air-to-air and air-to-ground technology – albeit with vastly more complexified computer programs. The P-38 Lightning of the twenty-first century it is surely not, especially for those who hold the P-38 in undeserved high regard.

In the interests of giving credit where credit is due, a more historically fitting moniker for the F-35 would be “Aardvark II.” Aardvark–literally ground pig in Afrikaans–was the nickname pilots (and ultimately the Air Force) gave to the F-111–and for good reasons. The F-111 was the tri-Service, tri-mission fighter-bomber of the 60s, and also a legendary disaster. The F-35 is rapidly earning its place as the Aardvark’s true heir.

There are astonishing parallels between the two programs.

Both airplanes started life as misconceived USAF bombing-oriented designs, then were cobbled into “joint”, tri-Service Rube Goldbergs by Pentagon R&D civilians fronting for high complexity, big bucks programs advocated by industry. At birth, the F-111 was the Tactical Air Command’s 60,000 pound baby nuclear bomber designed around two high tech hooks: the glitzy swing-wing that NASA was pushing hard (now thoroughly discredited as a lousy idea) and the first big, complicated bombing radar on a so-called fighter.

In 1961, R&D chief Dr. Harold Brown (later President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Defense) sold then-SecDef Robert McNamara on the inestimable efficiencies of turning the F-111 into a common design for the Air Force, Navy, and Strategic Air Command, blithely asserting that it would be a piece of cake to incorporate in one airplane nuclear bombing, conventional bombing, air-to-air dogfighting, radar interception for the fleet, and even close support of ground forces. This fantasy called for buying 1,706 of these do-everything wunderwaffen at a bargain basement price of $2.9 million per copy, to be achieved by the wonders of the ephemeral “learning curve” wishfully attributed to such long production runs.

Quite similarly, the F-35 started life in 1991 as the USAF’s Multi-Role Fighter (MRF), a multi-mission bomber and fighter (mostly bomber) to replace the F-16. In other words, the plane’s real mission was not a well-defined combat task but rather to be the “low” end, yeoman-like counterpart to the more refined “high” end F-22 fighter. This was simply slavish adherence to the Air Staff’s simple-minded, misbegotten 30-year-old dogma of a “high/low force mix,” a slogan originally concocted to sell the F-15/F-16 mixed fighter buy to the Congress in 1974.

In 1993, the Pentagon’s civilian high tech fantasists in the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA) crossbred the Air Force’s MRF concept with a stealthy, supersonic, vertical takeoff, ultra-complex pipedream that DARPA and Lockheed had been secretly sponsoring for six years. The marriage, urged on by Lockheed, turned the Air Force’s single service, multi-role MRF into a common (well, almost common) design that would perform interdiction bombing, air-to-air, fleet air defense, and close support for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. DARPA dubbed their tri-Service concoction the Combined Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF).

Once again promising the imagined cost savings of a multi-role, multi-service aircraft, DARPA sold the concept to another unsuspecting secretary of defense, former congressman Les Aspin. He added the necessary political gloss by endorsing the project in his 1993 Bottom Up Review (BUR), the progenitor of future successive waves of bureaucratic self-review, persistently sold as DoD “transformation” and now called “Quadrennial Defense Reviews.” For the BUR, DARPA and Aspin’s coterie of newcomers to Pentagon procurement fiascos renamed the project JAST (Joint Advanced Strike Technology). Congress laid on generous funds and by the end 1996 two JAST technology demonstrator (not prototype) contracts at three quarters of a billion dollars each were awarded, one to Lockheed and one to recent entrant Boeing–thereby creating the veneer, if not the actuality, of competitive prototypes. The alphabet soup chefs celebrated the signing with yet another name change: JAST became JSF, the Joint Strike Fighter. The new JSF office promptly floated a plan, very much in the F-111 tradition, for loading up the Services with a long production run of nearly 3,000 planes at an ever-so-affordable cost of $28 to $38 million each.

Unlike the marketing appeal of the F-111’s super sexy swing wing, the JSF’s high tech allure was a bit wan: a warmed-over, lesser version of the F-22’s stealth; a little more data-linking; a few more bombing computers than the F-22 and way less air-to-air maneuverability (not that the F-22 was any world beater). The only real firsts were a helmet-mounted sight that displays everything in the world except internet video and the Encyclopedia Britannica–and a bank of onboard computers requiring a horrific 7.5 million lines of software code.

Both the initial F-111 and the F-35 designs–each grossly too heavy and hideously lacking in maneuverability from the very start–were further compromised by the bureaucratically invented requirement to serve multiple missions and multiple Services. The F-111’s drag was greatly increased by the Navy’s perfectly senseless requirement for side-by-side seating; the structural weight and the production commonality was compromised by having a different wing and nose section for the Air Force and Navy versions; and the Navy-instigated switch to an unsuitable high bypass fan engine caused endless problems with inlets, compressor stalls and excessive aft end drag. Similarly, the F-35, already overweight, has suffered serious structural weight penalties to accommodate the Navy’s much larger wing and carrier landing requirements as well as the Marines’ fattened Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) fan-carrying fuselage midsection with its shrunken bomb bay. The impact of the three Services’ disparate specifications is huge: the Government Accountability Office has found that only 30 percent of components of the F-35’s three models are shared. So much for commonality savings.

The funding for both the F-111 and the F-35 benefited from herculean PR efforts to tout their unparalleled effectiveness in each one of their multiple missions: air-to-air, deep strike bombing, air defense interception, and close support. In truth, neither plane has (or had) any real multi-mission ability at all. They can serve only as lumbering, loss-prone bomb trucks, vulnerable to antiaircraft guns at low altitude because of their thin skins and appallingly flammable fuel-surrounded engines—and equally vulnerable to surface to air missiles (SAMs) due to their hopelessly inadequate maneuverability.

In urgent need of PR to prop up the F-111’s already tarnished image and fading funding, the Air Force rushed six Aardvarks into Vietnam combat in early 1968. Though they flew only night bombing missions (for which combat losses are typically negligible) in the least defended areas, three were lost in the first 55 missions. Accuracy of the much-vaunted radar bombing system was another black eye: half the bombs hit a half mile or more from the target. An embarrassingly hasty withdrawal from combat ensued.

In 1972, the F-111s tried a second turn in the combat limelight. The very first six-ship mission had four planes abort due to system failures; one never found the target and one reached the target but never returned. In toto, the 48 F-111s deployed only managed to fly about once every 2 ½ days. Flying night-only in low threat areas, they managed to lose 10 birds in the next six months. Day bombing was not attempted, and even the Air Force was not mindless enough to fly a single F-111 sortie anywhere near an enemy fighter. Nor, needless to say, did they fly a single close support sortie.

Similarly–and for the same reasons of unmaneuverability and high flammability–Air Force and Navy F-35s in combat will never fly anything but bomb truck missions in lightly defended areas out of reach of enemy fighters. As for the Marines’ range- and payload-limited, problem ridden, highly vulnerable STOVL F-35B, it will never deliver close support to a grunt on the ground from less than 10,000 feet without an ironclad guarantee that there’s not an AAA gun or shoulder-fired missile within five miles. With the F-35B’s miniscule loiter time, the grunts can forget about all-day air cover–a crucial component of effective close support in any war. Nor will the STOVL capability, a Marine Corps do-or-die requirement, ever let the F-35B operate impromptu close to the grunts in the foxholes. It can fly only from prepared concrete landing pads; a landing in the dirt close to the troops is sure to destroy the engine every time. Even flying off Marine/Navy ships may never happen: right now, the heat of the lift fan exhaust buckles the deck of any existing carrier or amphibious warfare ship.

High-tech dilettantes claimed (and claim) vociferously that both the F-111 and the F-35 could not be found or shot down by ground air defenses: the F-111 by virtue of its high speed and low altitude terrain following radar; the F-35 by virtue of its stealth. The terrain following radar proved to be a loser, costing several F-111s in Vietnam combat. As for the F-35’s stealth, it is easily detected by ancient-technology long wavelength search radars, which the Russians are happy to update and sell all over the world. Against shorter wavelength SAM and fighter radars, the stealth helps only over a very narrow cone of angles. These realities were an unpleasant surprise to our stealthy F-117s in the Kosovo air war in 1999. Against the Serbs’ antiquated Russian radar defenses, one F-117 was shot down and another so badly damaged it never flew again – a loss count twice that of the non-stealthy aircraft in the campaign. It is true, however, that the F-35, like the F-111 before it, will be hard to find in combat, though for other reasons: their long and frequent stays in the maintenance hangar dictate rather rare appearances over enemy skies.

Both Aardvark programs, the F-111 and the F-35, counted on foreign sales to keep unit costs down. The USAF and the Pentagon spent years marketing the F-111 to the UK, Australia and others. The UK bailed out of the F-111, and Australia unhappily learned to live with the ground pigs we talked them into. The F-35 program counts much more heavily on pie-in-the-sky foreign sales; six months ago the Pentagon’s program manager was touting the potential sale of thousands, well beyond the established plans for 730 for eight known foreign buyers. However, the UK is reported to be about to halve its F-35 buy, and a vocal faction in Australia wants to cancel their entire F-35 buy. Other foreign buyers are nervously monitoring F-35 cost growth, delays, and performance compromises.

The first Aardvark program produced one-third the number of planes planned at over five times the unit cost: 1,706 were planned at $2.9 million unit cost–in contrast to an actual 541 built at $15.1 million each, in 1960’s dollars. The F-35 was originally sold on the basis of buying 2,866 planes — for the US only — at $28 to $38 million each in contemporary dollars. Those Aardvark II promises are long gone; the current official estimate is to buy 2,456 aircraft for a combined research, development, and procurement cost of $299 billion, or $122 million each. The cost growth is far from over. A courageously independent evaluation group in the Pentagon, known as the Joint Estimating Team (JET), is predicting two or more years of delay and $16 billion or more in further cost growth – just for the next few years.

Again, however, that is just the tip of the iceberg. With 97% of flight test hours still unflown, we are certainly facing billions of dollars more in major rework to correct flight test failures sure to be found throughout the airplane: airframe, engine, electronics and software. Then, because the flight test program is designed to explore only 17 percent of the F-35’s flight characteristics, still more problems are sure to be found after the aircraft is deployed – at the potential expense of pilot lives and, of course, lots more money. In the end, expect F-35 unit cost to exceed $200 million. That means there’s no way our budgets will ever find room to buy 2,456 of them and, most probably, not half that number.

Another F-35 problem yet to be broached is the Navy’s very likely backing out of the program, a repeat of the Navy’s little known undermining of the F-111 program. The 1961 McNamara-Brown plan for a tri-Service F-111 was an illusion from the start. From the earliest days, Navy admirals were saying in private that the USN had no intention of ever building the carrier-based F-111B. They signed on to McNamara’s F-111 plan in order to extract funding for the engine (TF-30) and missile/radar (Phoenix/AWG-9) for their ardently desired all-Navy fighter. The USN was secretly developing that fighter, the F-14, with Grumman, the Navy-favored contractor they had planted inside the F-111 program to provide GD, ostensibly, with the carrier expertise to design the F-111B. In 1968, the year of the first sizable dollar commitments to F-111B production, the Navy announced that the F-111B’s carrier landing performance was unacceptably dangerous–a more-than-questionable assertion since the Navy’s in-service RA-5C Vigilantes had far worse carrier landing characteristics (and the F-14 itself would soon prove more dangerous than the F-111B in carrier landing characteristics). Simultaneously, the Navy told Congress it had in hand the design for a far better swing-wing fighter than the F-111, and it could build the aircraft right away for the same money as the F-111B. The Congress willingly went along with the gambit and authorized the Navy to apply the F-111B procurement money to the F-14.

The F-35 seems to be following the same trajectory. The Navy has been quietly reducing the number of Navy F-35Cs in the program plan and converting them to Marine F-35Bs. Alternatives to the F-35C have been discussed, and at least one has been briefed to top Pentagon managers. Meanwhile, both in the Navy budget and under the table with Congress, the Navy has successfully pushed for increased buys of their F-18E/F (an almost equally unworthy fighter and not much of a bomber). The Navy’s budget for F-35Cs is scheduled to steeply increase to $9 billion in fiscal year 2012. Expect the Navy to announce sometime before that the F-35C is simply carrier unsuitable. That will surely be accompanied by a simultaneous pitch that a hot new version of the F-18 is in hand, one that will cost less than the F-35C (which will not be difficult) and whose faster deliveries will cure the fighter “gap” that is causing the Navy to lose two much-lamented carriers from its future force.

The success of that pitch will spell the death knell of the F-35 program. Unit costs will automatically jump to a new peak. The performance deficiencies the Navy is sure to reveal at that point will add a sack heavy enough to bow the camel’s back, and the F-35 program will become nothing but a mad scramble to uncommit from as many Aardvark IIs as possible.

In the midst of their escalating program failures, both the F-111 and F-35 continued to be ever more intensely advertised as the future of U.S. combat aviation, the sine qua non of America’s continued domination of the skies anywhere in the world, and…

Both crapped out.

It’s all over but the shouting–and the wasting of many, many billions more before we’re rid of the second pig.

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C..

Pierre M. Sprey, together with Cols John Boyd and Everest Riccioni, brought to fruition the F-16; he also led the design team for the A-10 and helped implement the program.

Both Wheeler and Sprey are authors of chapters in the anthology “America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress.”


Winslow T. Wheeler: A Tale of Two Pigs

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

(This essay is jointly written by Winslow T. Wheeler and Pierre M. Sprey.)

The Pentagon has a time honored tradition of assigning PR nicknames to its aircraft. The moniker of Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is “Lightning II”, named after Lockheed’s glitzy but rather unsuccessful WWII fighter, the P-38. A cursory look at the record of the F-35’s namesake is convincing evidence that we need to find a new name for the JSF, quickly.

The darling of the Army Air Corps in the early 1940s and of vintage fighter buffs today, the P-38 was the high tech and high cost wonder of its time. It pioneered twin engines (with counter-rotating props and turbo-chargers), tricycle landing gear, stainless steel structural components, and a radical airframe design. At a time when fighters cost about $50,000, it cracked the $100,000 mark. Even so, it got torn apart so badly in dogfights against the far smaller, more agile, faster-climbing Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs that it had to be withdrawn from the skies over Germany as a fighter — in favor of the far more effective, half as expensive P-51. Relegated to the minor leagues of reconnaissance and ground support in Europe, mostly in Italy, the P-38 proved itself equally inadequate in ground attack; it was simply too flammable and too easily downed by rifle and machine gun fire.

Setting aside the not-so-proud history of the P-38, the Lightning II moniker is a poor fit for the F-35. Despite the F-35’s whopping (and still growing) $122 million per copy price tag, the Air Force and other advocates pretend it is the low-priced, affordable spread in fighter-bombers. Though horrendously overburdened with every high tech weight and drag inducing goodie the aviation bureaucracy in the Pentagon can cram in, the Lightning II is hardly a pioneer, being little more than a pastiche of pre-existing air-to-air and air-to-ground technology – albeit with vastly more complexified computer programs. The P-38 Lightning of the twenty-first century it is surely not, especially for those who hold the P-38 in undeserved high regard.

In the interests of giving credit where credit is due, a more historically fitting moniker for the F-35 would be “Aardvark II.” Aardvark–literally ground pig in Afrikaans–was the nickname pilots (and ultimately the Air Force) gave to the F-111–and for good reasons. The F-111 was the tri-Service, tri-mission fighter-bomber of the 60s, and also a legendary disaster. The F-35 is rapidly earning its place as the Aardvark’s true heir.

There are astonishing parallels between the two programs.

Both airplanes started life as misconceived USAF bombing-oriented designs, then were cobbled into “joint”, tri-Service Rube Goldbergs by Pentagon R&D civilians fronting for high complexity, big bucks programs advocated by industry. At birth, the F-111 was the Tactical Air Command’s 60,000 pound baby nuclear bomber designed around two high tech hooks: the glitzy swing-wing that NASA was pushing hard (now thoroughly discredited as a lousy idea) and the first big, complicated bombing radar on a so-called fighter.

In 1961, R&D chief Dr. Harold Brown (later President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Defense) sold then-SecDef Robert McNamara on the inestimable efficiencies of turning the F-111 into a common design for the Air Force, Navy, and Strategic Air Command, blithely asserting that it would be a piece of cake to incorporate in one airplane nuclear bombing, conventional bombing, air-to-air dogfighting, radar interception for the fleet, and even close support of ground forces. This fantasy called for buying 1,706 of these do-everything wunderwaffen at a bargain basement price of $2.9 million per copy, to be achieved by the wonders of the ephemeral “learning curve” wishfully attributed to such long production runs.

Quite similarly, the F-35 started life in 1991 as the USAF’s Multi-Role Fighter (MRF), a multi-mission bomber and fighter (mostly bomber) to replace the F-16. In other words, the plane’s real mission was not a well-defined combat task but rather to be the “low” end, yeoman-like counterpart to the more refined “high” end F-22 fighter. This was simply slavish adherence to the Air Staff’s simple-minded, misbegotten 30-year-old dogma of a “high/low force mix,” a slogan originally concocted to sell the F-15/F-16 mixed fighter buy to the Congress in 1974.

In 1993, the Pentagon’s civilian high tech fantasists in the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA) crossbred the Air Force’s MRF concept with a stealthy, supersonic, vertical takeoff, ultra-complex pipedream that DARPA and Lockheed had been secretly sponsoring for six years. The marriage, urged on by Lockheed, turned the Air Force’s single service, multi-role MRF into a common (well, almost common) design that would perform interdiction bombing, air-to-air, fleet air defense, and close support for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. DARPA dubbed their tri-Service concoction the Combined Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF).

Once again promising the imagined cost savings of a multi-role, multi-service aircraft, DARPA sold the concept to another unsuspecting secretary of defense, former congressman Les Aspin. He added the necessary political gloss by endorsing the project in his 1993 Bottom Up Review (BUR), the progenitor of future successive waves of bureaucratic self-review, persistently sold as DoD “transformation” and now called “Quadrennial Defense Reviews.” For the BUR, DARPA and Aspin’s coterie of newcomers to Pentagon procurement fiascos renamed the project JAST (Joint Advanced Strike Technology). Congress laid on generous funds and by the end 1996 two JAST technology demonstrator (not prototype) contracts at three quarters of a billion dollars each were awarded, one to Lockheed and one to recent entrant Boeing–thereby creating the veneer, if not the actuality, of competitive prototypes. The alphabet soup chefs celebrated the signing with yet another name change: JAST became JSF, the Joint Strike Fighter. The new JSF office promptly floated a plan, very much in the F-111 tradition, for loading up the Services with a long production run of nearly 3,000 planes at an ever-so-affordable cost of $28 to $38 million each.

Unlike the marketing appeal of the F-111’s super sexy swing wing, the JSF’s high tech allure was a bit wan: a warmed-over, lesser version of the F-22’s stealth; a little more data-linking; a few more bombing computers than the F-22 and way less air-to-air maneuverability (not that the F-22 was any world beater). The only real firsts were a helmet-mounted sight that displays everything in the world except internet video and the Encyclopedia Britannica–and a bank of onboard computers requiring a horrific 7.5 million lines of software code.

Both the initial F-111 and the F-35 designs–each grossly too heavy and hideously lacking in maneuverability from the very start–were further compromised by the bureaucratically invented requirement to serve multiple missions and multiple Services. The F-111’s drag was greatly increased by the Navy’s perfectly senseless requirement for side-by-side seating; the structural weight and the production commonality was compromised by having a different wing and nose section for the Air Force and Navy versions; and the Navy-instigated switch to an unsuitable high bypass fan engine caused endless problems with inlets, compressor stalls and excessive aft end drag. Similarly, the F-35, already overweight, has suffered serious structural weight penalties to accommodate the Navy’s much larger wing and carrier landing requirements as well as the Marines’ fattened Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) fan-carrying fuselage midsection with its shrunken bomb bay. The impact of the three Services’ disparate specifications is huge: the Government Accountability Office has found that only 30 percent of components of the F-35’s three models are shared. So much for commonality savings.

The funding for both the F-111 and the F-35 benefited from herculean PR efforts to tout their unparalleled effectiveness in each one of their multiple missions: air-to-air, deep strike bombing, air defense interception, and close support. In truth, neither plane has (or had) any real multi-mission ability at all. They can serve only as lumbering, loss-prone bomb trucks, vulnerable to antiaircraft guns at low altitude because of their thin skins and appallingly flammable fuel-surrounded engines—and equally vulnerable to surface to air missiles (SAMs) due to their hopelessly inadequate maneuverability.

In urgent need of PR to prop up the F-111’s already tarnished image and fading funding, the Air Force rushed six Aardvarks into Vietnam combat in early 1968. Though they flew only night bombing missions (for which combat losses are typically negligible) in the least defended areas, three were lost in the first 55 missions. Accuracy of the much-vaunted radar bombing system was another black eye: half the bombs hit a half mile or more from the target. An embarrassingly hasty withdrawal from combat ensued.

In 1972, the F-111s tried a second turn in the combat limelight. The very first six-ship mission had four planes abort due to system failures; one never found the target and one reached the target but never returned. In toto, the 48 F-111s deployed only managed to fly about once every 2 ½ days. Flying night-only in low threat areas, they managed to lose 10 birds in the next six months. Day bombing was not attempted, and even the Air Force was not mindless enough to fly a single F-111 sortie anywhere near an enemy fighter. Nor, needless to say, did they fly a single close support sortie.

Similarly–and for the same reasons of unmaneuverability and high flammability–Air Force and Navy F-35s in combat will never fly anything but bomb truck missions in lightly defended areas out of reach of enemy fighters. As for the Marines’ range- and payload-limited, problem ridden, highly vulnerable STOVL F-35B, it will never deliver close support to a grunt on the ground from less than 10,000 feet without an ironclad guarantee that there’s not an AAA gun or shoulder-fired missile within five miles. With the F-35B’s miniscule loiter time, the grunts can forget about all-day air cover–a crucial component of effective close support in any war. Nor will the STOVL capability, a Marine Corps do-or-die requirement, ever let the F-35B operate impromptu close to the grunts in the foxholes. It can fly only from prepared concrete landing pads; a landing in the dirt close to the troops is sure to destroy the engine every time. Even flying off Marine/Navy ships may never happen: right now, the heat of the lift fan exhaust buckles the deck of any existing carrier or amphibious warfare ship.

High-tech dilettantes claimed (and claim) vociferously that both the F-111 and the F-35 could not be found or shot down by ground air defenses: the F-111 by virtue of its high speed and low altitude terrain following radar; the F-35 by virtue of its stealth. The terrain following radar proved to be a loser, costing several F-111s in Vietnam combat. As for the F-35’s stealth, it is easily detected by ancient-technology long wavelength search radars, which the Russians are happy to update and sell all over the world. Against shorter wavelength SAM and fighter radars, the stealth helps only over a very narrow cone of angles. These realities were an unpleasant surprise to our stealthy F-117s in the Kosovo air war in 1999. Against the Serbs’ antiquated Russian radar defenses, one F-117 was shot down and another so badly damaged it never flew again – a loss count twice that of the non-stealthy aircraft in the campaign. It is true, however, that the F-35, like the F-111 before it, will be hard to find in combat, though for other reasons: their long and frequent stays in the maintenance hangar dictate rather rare appearances over enemy skies.

Both Aardvark programs, the F-111 and the F-35, counted on foreign sales to keep unit costs down. The USAF and the Pentagon spent years marketing the F-111 to the UK, Australia and others. The UK bailed out of the F-111, and Australia unhappily learned to live with the ground pigs we talked them into. The F-35 program counts much more heavily on pie-in-the-sky foreign sales; six months ago the Pentagon’s program manager was touting the potential sale of thousands, well beyond the established plans for 730 for eight known foreign buyers. However, the UK is reported to be about to halve its F-35 buy, and a vocal faction in Australia wants to cancel their entire F-35 buy. Other foreign buyers are nervously monitoring F-35 cost growth, delays, and performance compromises.

The first Aardvark program produced one-third the number of planes planned at over five times the unit cost: 1,706 were planned at $2.9 million unit cost–in contrast to an actual 541 built at $15.1 million each, in 1960’s dollars. The F-35 was originally sold on the basis of buying 2,866 planes — for the US only — at $28 to $38 million each in contemporary dollars. Those Aardvark II promises are long gone; the current official estimate is to buy 2,456 aircraft for a combined research, development, and procurement cost of $299 billion, or $122 million each. The cost growth is far from over. A courageously independent evaluation group in the Pentagon, known as the Joint Estimating Team (JET), is predicting two or more years of delay and $16 billion or more in further cost growth – just for the next few years.

Again, however, that is just the tip of the iceberg. With 97% of flight test hours still unflown, we are certainly facing billions of dollars more in major rework to correct flight test failures sure to be found throughout the airplane: airframe, engine, electronics and software. Then, because the flight test program is designed to explore only 17 percent of the F-35’s flight characteristics, still more problems are sure to be found after the aircraft is deployed – at the potential expense of pilot lives and, of course, lots more money. In the end, expect F-35 unit cost to exceed $200 million. That means there’s no way our budgets will ever find room to buy 2,456 of them and, most probably, not half that number.

Another F-35 problem yet to be broached is the Navy’s very likely backing out of the program, a repeat of the Navy’s little known undermining of the F-111 program. The 1961 McNamara-Brown plan for a tri-Service F-111 was an illusion from the start. From the earliest days, Navy admirals were saying in private that the USN had no intention of ever building the carrier-based F-111B. They signed on to McNamara’s F-111 plan in order to extract funding for the engine (TF-30) and missile/radar (Phoenix/AWG-9) for their ardently desired all-Navy fighter. The USN was secretly developing that fighter, the F-14, with Grumman, the Navy-favored contractor they had planted inside the F-111 program to provide GD, ostensibly, with the carrier expertise to design the F-111B. In 1968, the year of the first sizable dollar commitments to F-111B production, the Navy announced that the F-111B’s carrier landing performance was unacceptably dangerous–a more-than-questionable assertion since the Navy’s in-service RA-5C Vigilantes had far worse carrier landing characteristics (and the F-14 itself would soon prove more dangerous than the F-111B in carrier landing characteristics). Simultaneously, the Navy told Congress it had in hand the design for a far better swing-wing fighter than the F-111, and it could build the aircraft right away for the same money as the F-111B. The Congress willingly went along with the gambit and authorized the Navy to apply the F-111B procurement money to the F-14.

The F-35 seems to be following the same trajectory. The Navy has been quietly reducing the number of Navy F-35Cs in the program plan and converting them to Marine F-35Bs. Alternatives to the F-35C have been discussed, and at least one has been briefed to top Pentagon managers. Meanwhile, both in the Navy budget and under the table with Congress, the Navy has successfully pushed for increased buys of their F-18E/F (an almost equally unworthy fighter and not much of a bomber). The Navy’s budget for F-35Cs is scheduled to steeply increase to $9 billion in fiscal year 2012. Expect the Navy to announce sometime before that the F-35C is simply carrier unsuitable. That will surely be accompanied by a simultaneous pitch that a hot new version of the F-18 is in hand, one that will cost less than the F-35C (which will not be difficult) and whose faster deliveries will cure the fighter “gap” that is causing the Navy to lose two much-lamented carriers from its future force.

The success of that pitch will spell the death knell of the F-35 program. Unit costs will automatically jump to a new peak. The performance deficiencies the Navy is sure to reveal at that point will add a sack heavy enough to bow the camel’s back, and the F-35 program will become nothing but a mad scramble to uncommit from as many Aardvark IIs as possible.

In the midst of their escalating program failures, both the F-111 and F-35 continued to be ever more intensely advertised as the future of U.S. combat aviation, the sine qua non of America’s continued domination of the skies anywhere in the world, and…

Both crapped out.

It’s all over but the shouting–and the wasting of many, many billions more before we’re rid of the second pig.

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C..

Pierre M. Sprey, together with Cols John Boyd and Everest Riccioni, brought to fruition the F-16; he also led the design team for the A-10 and helped implement the program.

Both Wheeler and Sprey are authors of chapters in the anthology “America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress.”