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National Defense > Blog > Posts > Termination of F-35 Is ‘Within the Realm of the Possible’
Termination of F-35 Is ‘Within the Realm of the Possible’
By Jon Harper


 
The F-35 joint strike fighter program could be terminated after the Donald Trump administration takes office, the Air Force’s top civilian leader said Jan. 6.
 
President-elect Trump has been highly critical of the Pentagon’s $400 billion acquisition project.
 
“The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th,” he tweeted last month.
 
He has asked Boeing to “price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet” as a potential alternative to the joint strike fighter, he said in a subsequent tweet.
 
During a meeting hosted by the Air Force Association, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James was asked about Trump’s statements and whether the future of the program could be in jeopardy.
 
“Any new administration, any new commander-in-chief can certainly order a termination, a left turn, a right turn, a different approach to any system,” she said in what may be her last public appearance as head of the Air Force. “All of that is within the realm of the possible.”
 
She expressed hope that Trump and his team would seek out the advice of service leaders, and that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein would be able to persuade the White House to keep the program alive and on track.
 
“One of the things that would occur is the new team would turn to the users, the people who set the requirement in the first place, and they would certainly seek their input and get their opinions on these matters,” she said. “Everything that I know from the chief requirements officer of the Air Force, namely the chief of staff of the Air Force, is that the requirements of the F-35 are crucial and that the program is coming along.”
 
During her remarks, she noted the need for modernization and preparing to fight high-tech adversaries. The F-35A, which achieved initial operating capability last year, is the service’s top acquisition priority.
 
The aircraft is “performing magnificently,” James said. “It’s a cut above anything the pilots had ever seen before and we need it.”
 
The Air Force leader dismissed the idea that the F-18 Super Hornet could serve as a viable alternative. “It does not fulfill the same requirements,” she said, noting that the F-18 is a fourth-generation fighter and the F-35 is a more advanced fifth-generation fighter.
 
“It’s a little bit apples and oranges,” she said. “I have to believe that before any final decision would be made with respect to a major shift, [Goldfein] would be consulted.”
 
While some of Trump’s advisers want to “tear open” the program, influential voices at the Pentagon might be able to prevent any major cutbacks, said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.
 
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs, and retired Marine Gen. James Mattis — who was tapped by Trump to be the next secretary of defense — might serve as powerful advocates for the joint strike fighter, she said.
 
The Marine Corps is “all in on this program,” Eaglen said in an interview. Having current and retired Marines in the top slots at the Defense Department may impact the trajectory of the project, at least in the near term.
 
“They may be able to push back successfully on any Trump team inclinations to want to tear open this program and take it apart ... and see if they come out with the same number” of required aircraft, she said.

Photo: Air Force

Comments

Re: Termination of F-35 Is ‘Within the Realm of the Possible’

The F-18 does not have stealth and does not have a chance to penetrate modern Russian  Air Defense.
Peter John at 1/7/2017 12:59 AM

Re: Termination of F-35 Is ‘Within the Realm of the Possible’

I don't personally think the program will be cancelled, but I do think it is going to change. The plane certainly has potential to effectively fill a wide range of roles. However, I think it is a good thing that now many of the people involved with the project are fearing cancellation, who for a long time often called this project, "too big to fail". If a contractor feels their program is untouchable, then they may place less emphasis on certain factors relating to value, safety, or performance, since the end outcome would have only limited effect on the company.

Re-evaluating options, whether that be an enhanced F-18, the F-15 Silent Eagle, one of the advanced F-16s (or even revisiting the F-22 or YF-23) as a compliment to the F-35 in reduced orders, doesn't seem like a terrible idea considering how many issues the F-35 program has had, and how many of the conflicts we have recently been engaged in have not always required low-observability.

Rather, during the last 20 years, CAS capabilities have arguably been as important as stealth, sometimes more. While the F-35 could potentially fill many of those roles to a certain extent, whether it can do it equally effectively, reliably, efficiently, and safely as current options are up for debate. Ironically, many pushing the F-35 have attempted to kill the plane that is arguably one of the most devastating terrorist-fighting weapons ever conceived.

In defense of the F-35, when the F-16 came out there was also a lot of controversy and concern, and to date it appears that every 5th gen fighter made is running into all sorts of issues. However, the F-35 doesn't have the value of the F-16, and when you are talking about making 3,000+ planes, that is a big concern!!!

While canceling the F-35 outright might not be the best option, continuing on the current path without a course correction also doesn't seem like a great idea. I'm all for taking a second look at our options.
ZacPaul at 1/8/2017 3:21 PM

Re: Termination of F-35 Is ‘Within the Realm of the Possible’

I don't personally think the program will be cancelled, but I do think it is going to change. The plane certainly has potential to effectively fill a wide range of roles. However, I think it is a good thing that now many of the people involved with the project are fearing cancellation, who for a long time often called this project, "too big to fail". If a contractor feels their program is untouchable, then they may place less emphasis on certain factors relating to value, safety, or performance, since the end outcome would have only limited effect on the company.

Re-evaluating options, whether that be an enhanced F-18, the F-15 Silent Eagle, one of the advanced F-16s (or even revisiting the F-22 or YF-23) as a compliment to the F-35 in reduced orders, doesn't seem like a terrible idea considering how many issues the F-35 program has had, and how many of the conflicts we have recently been engaged in have not always required low-observability.

Rather, during the last 20 years, CAS capabilities have arguably been as important as stealth, sometimes more. While the F-35 could potentially fill many of those roles to a certain extent, whether it can do it equally effectively, reliably, efficiently, and safely as current options are up for debate. Ironically, many pushing the F-35 have attempted to kill the plane that is arguably one of the most devastating terrorist-fighting weapons ever conceived.

In defense of the F-35, when the F-16 came out there was also a lot of controversy and concern, and to date it appears that every 5th gen fighter made is running into all sorts of issues. However, the F-35 doesn't have the value of the F-16, and when you are talking about making 3,000+ planes, that is a big concern!!!

While canceling the F-35 outright might not be the best option, continuing on the current path without a course correction also doesn't seem like a great idea. I'm all for taking a second look at our options.
Zac Paul at 1/8/2017 3:22 PM

Re: Termination of F-35 Is ‘Within the Realm of the Possible’

I could see the C model being cancelled in favor of an advanced SH.  The C has catapult  issues that won't be fixed for years, they are only buying a couple hundred and cancellation could help them go to F/A-XX sooner. The F-35 C also lacks in internal payload and range needed to the PACOM AOR.  

 The F-35 A-C also was never designed for air dominance and is therefore unable to secure the skies from the expected threats in 2030 (see USAF Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan), "The Air Force’s projected force structure in 2030 is not capable of fighting and winning against this array of potential adversary capabilities."
So if the USAF needs a new PCA to counter the threat, the Navy does too.

Originally the F-35 was the "Low Cost" complement to the F-22.   The reality is that it is nearly as expensive as the F-22 and much more expensive than the planes it replaces.  Based on the original cost projections it made no sense to keep F-15s, F-16s or F/A-18s even for lower intensity conflicts.   Now that those assumptions have been proven false, a high/low mix of F-35s and upgraded legacy platforms makes sense for many of the missions.   I think we could see the F-35 significantly reduced in favor of a new high/low mix    especially as the USAF and Navy start to see they really NEED PCA and F/A-XX sooner rather than later.
Weaponhead at 1/9/2017 10:39 AM

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