Is The F-35 Fighter Jet That Australia Is Buying Actually Worth It?

The F-35 Fighter Plane Is Even More of a Mess Than You Thought

The US military's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft is proving to be a pain in the neck in more ways than one. An expose from CBS News looks at the extent of the program's many delays and cost over-runs.

Not only did the Pentagon spend almost $US400 billion to buy 2,400 aircraft — about twice as much as it cost to put a man on the moon — the F-35 program is 7 years behind schedule and $US163 billion over budget. This at a time when cuts in the defence budget are forcing the Pentagon to shrink the size of the military. Australia is buying a total of 72 of the next-generation aircraft, with the most recent order of 58 F-35s projected to cost over $12 billion.

CBS 60 Minutes took a closer look at the troubled fighter plane a few months back, but their rebroadcast tonight seems like as good a reason as any to revisit one of the biggest ongoing budget debacles in U.S. military memory. [CBS]

July 2014: Australia To Boost Joint Strike Fighter Order To 72 Aircraft: A Brief History Of The Troubled F-35 Program

According to several reports, Prime Minister Tony Abbott will today formally announce that Australia will buy 58 more F-35 Joint Strike fighters — bringing the planned F-35 fleet to 72 aircraft in total. Australia’s new $12 billion order will reportedly become the country’s most expensive defence asset; one designed to eventually replace RAAF’S F-18 Super Hornets.

The Insanely Expensive F-35 Is Delayed Again, Now Because of Software

March 2014: The Insanely Expensive F-35 Is Delayed Again, For Australia Too

A United States Government report reveals that the F-35 will be delayed yet again. This time, the problem is stalled software development. It’s just the latest in a long line of delays and problems. Australia’s F-35 order, for at least 14 jets, is looking more and more like throwing money into the wind.

The Life And Times Of A Fighter Jet Test Pilot

Over here at Gizmodo Australia, we’re all lucky enough to be living out our dream jobs. Everyday we’re testing new gadgets, new tech and previewing the next big thing. My job, however, is nothing compared to the job of Elliot Clements. His colleagues call him “Hemo”, not because it’s a clever nickname from some obscure experience, but because that was his callsign for the 14 years he was in the Navy, flying combat missions in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Hemo is a fighter jet test pilot on the trillion-dollar F-35 fighter jet program, and he really does have the best job in the world.

The Only Thing Keeping the F-35 Lightning Relevant Is the F-22 Raptor

February 2014: The Only Thing Keeping The F-35 Lightning Relevant Is The F-22 Raptor

Even if they are primarily just cheap knockoffs, China’s rapidly growing fleet of next-gen aircraft are poised to seriously challenge American air superiority in the coming years. To prevent that, argues Chief of US Air Force Air Command Command Gen. Michael Hostage, the US will need plenty of fifth-generation fighters of its own — no matter the cost.

The Only Thing Keeping the F-35 Lightning Relevant Is the F-22 Raptor

January 2014: US Defence Contractor Arrested For Shipping Military Secrets To Iran

Mozaffar Khazaee, a former defence contractor has been arrested by authorities on charges that he attempted to smuggle classified technical data on a variety of military projects — including the new F-35 Lightning II — out of the US and into Iran.

Monster Machines: The Next F-35 Lightning's Engine Adapts For Flight, Fight And Beyond

Unlike commercial airliners, modern military aircraft are subjected to ever-changing flying conditions — from high-thrust takeoffs to flying at altitude to combat manoeuvres. So why are they outfitted with engines that perform optimally in only one of those flight envelopes? For the next iteration of the F-35 Lightning II, Pratt and Whitney is developing an engine that performs at its best no matter what’s required of it.

Inside the Pentagon's Trillion Dollar F-35 Embarrassment

September 2013: Inside The Pentagon's Trillion Dollar F-35 Embarrassment

It’s not news that the Pentagon’s fated F-35 program is riddled with dilemmas. For more than a decade, it’s bumped into roadblock after roadblock. When the planes aren’t grounded, they’re forbidden to fly in bad weather, combat missions or at night. Vanity Fair just published a lengthy look at just how bad a mess it is.

May 2013: First Footage Of An F-35B Taking Off Straight Into The Air

Finding a suitable runway to launch your multibillion dollar fighter jet from isn’t always as easy as it sounds. That’s why the F-35B Lightning II is designed to with the ability to both take off and land without ever needing to taxi. Here’s the first look at its vertical launch.

May 2013: The Most Awesome F-35 Video I've Ever Seen

Lockheed Martin just completed the latest high angle of attack test series. It was a complete success, as this video shows.

February 2013: The Trillion Dollar F-35 Is Grounded Yet Again

In what is becoming almost as consistent as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, the F-35 — America’s trillion dollar joke of a fighter jet — has been grounded again. I don’t even know how many times the fighter jet has been grounded now, I’ve lost count. This time, it’s because of a crack in a turbine blade of the engine.

November 2012: Look At This Badass F-35 High Angle Of Attack Testing Video

Time for some aeroplane porn: Lockheed Martin has completed high angle of attack testing for the F-35A Lightning II. The aircraft was able to get to its 50-degree limit with ease:

July 2012: Pilots Say Flying The F-35 Feels Like Magic

Some of the her pilots claim that the F-35 Lightning II is so easy to fly that it feels “like magic”. Reading their words, I thought they were talking about video game instead of one of the most advanced war machines ever created.

March 2012: Pentagon Helps New Stealth Fighter Cheat On Key Performance Test

It seemed like a promising step for America’s next stealth fighter: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter passed a key Pentagon test of its combat capability. But it turns out that the family of jets cleared the mid-February exam only because its proctor agreed to inflate its grade. In essence, the military helped the F-35 cheat on its midterms.

January 2012: The Most Expensive Plane Of All Time Takes Its First Gorgeous Night Flight

The F-35 may be a lot of dubious things (overpriced, underused, occasionally broken) — but it sure is beautiful. Enjoy the eye candy American tax dollars bought in all its splendour — the F-35 just took its first flight into darkness.

December 2011: Trillion-Dollar Jet Has Thirteen Expensive Flaws

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, meant to replace nearly every tactical warplane in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, was already expected to cost $US1 trillion dollars for development, production and maintenance over the next 50 years. Now that cost is expected to grow, owing to 13 different design flaws uncovered in the last two months by a hush-hush panel of five Pentagon experts. It could cost up to a billion dollars to fix the flaws on copies of the jet already in production, to say nothing of those yet to come



    This would be all moot if they would sell us and F-22.

      Except, while they were still being constructed, the then US Defense Secretary publicly stated that he had no objection to selling the F-22 to the RAAF. The RAAF, with its knowledge of the F-22 project, decided that they didn't want them.
      The F-22 project was so completely inept, the aircraft so poorly built and so unreliable, even the USAF didn't want to keep buying them. There are less then 200 of them and already they are showing up in Nation Guard/Reserve squadrons.
      I remember being in high school during the YF-22/YF-23 fly-off. I was cheering on the YF-23. Sadly for me it lost out to the F-22, but I have followed the F-22 development now for over 20 years. What should have been the most impressive aircraft ever flown, just isn't. It ended up being a case study on exactly how not to build a defence system.

      Read up on why it was finally cancelled. It will break the heart of any defence aviation enthusiast.
      Sadly, they have not learnt those lessons on the F-35.

        I remember waiting for popular mechanics articles on the YF-22/YF-23 testing. Like you I was pissed off at the result. The YF-23 was just awesome. I was watching a couple of docos about it on YouTube a month ago.

        Last edited 02/06/14 5:18 pm

        The US senate never approved it for sale. The US Defense Secretary probably said he liked Angry Birds too and that statement was equally as relevant.

        Last edited 02/06/14 6:20 pm

          It is unlikely in the extreme that the Secretary of Defense would have made that statement without consulting both the DSCA and FMS committee beforehand. It's likely that he was encouraged by the senate FMS sub-committee to sell some planes..

          If you could read between the lines instead of making asinine comments, I wouldn't have to tell you that he would have made that statement with full support of 'the US senate'. It was not an off-the-cuff statement, but a public declaration of the US's desire to sell us the F-22, a public statement of the trusted relationship between the US and Australia (the only country ever offered F-22s as far as I know), but most importantly, it was a statement to the US congress about manufacturing jobs. Something like 40 US states had factories building bits and pieces of the F-22(the primary reason it failed), selling it to the RAAF would have been a message to voters.

          edit: why can't Americans spell defence?

          Last edited 03/06/14 12:37 pm

    but I was certain Australia was in dire budgetary deficit..... somethings not right here...

      We're not really but to be fair these were kicked off and purchased by John Howard (that's how delayed these things are)

        yes, but the budget emergency is so dire, we need to force people to pay $7 for a gp visit - $5 of which goes to medical research, whilst cutting all other scientific research, deregulate uni fees forcing prices up, increase the hecs interest rates, cut peoples dole for 6 month periods, cut the aged pension ,and make people work when their 70, yet we can afford $12 billion for MORE fighter jets that arent yet finished, and we havent even received the planes we have already paid for.

        Just fyi the amount of cuts the Coalition specified in the budget is around $13 billion.

          Is that true? billions in cuts to health, education, welfare and science but $12 billion spent on fighter jets?

            You read it on the internet didnt you, but yeah its a pretty accurate portrayal of this budget.

    This video sums it up pretty neatly:

    Seems like everybody but the actual government is of the opinion that it's a piece of crap... I get the feeling we're basically paying an America tax here regardless of wether we take delivery of these barely flying money sinks, or not....!

    Last edited 02/06/14 5:31 pm

    no.. its hopeless
    its RAM paint is so exotic it needs special handling
    its radar signature is not that invisable
    new radar systems developed in the last decade can now pick up these types of aircraft
    the aircraft itself is over weight, underperforms, has major system issues..
    as for the navy varient.. arrester hook is useless
    as for the "VSTOL" varient... whats the point of carrying round an engine component that does not do anything in flight.. the harrier was the perfect and only pure vstol aircraft (which is why the marines dont want to ditch it)

    buy something else... euro-fighter typoon is waaaaaaaaaaaaay better and can out fight everything else

    We dont have an aircraft carrier, so deployment is way too limited... if the government and defense department cant see to shift this money to hospital / education / rejigging the budget so it doesnt *bleep* everyone in the *bleep*... then they should invest in more practical aircraft with alternate peace time useage. Jets are war machines, and Australia doesnt start wars. Helicopters with emergency relief capabilities or drones (boat and flying) for border patrols are a better deal

    Australia is not known for our Airforce, and that much money for jets we rarely use except to do dump and burns above sporting / holiday events is a waste.

    Australian Defence Forces has a real bad history of trying to buy the latest technology aircraft / submarines / ships... or buying the surplus rejects from the USA... this is a bad deal.

      incorrect, Australian is known very well for its aircraft and piloting skills, but in recent years we are well known for 2 things, retiring one of the most versatile aircraft and buying the most expensive and under preforming aircraft known to date.

    They don't work, they don't meet our so-called 'defence' requirements and we don't actually need them. They would be extremely expensive patrol planes, trying to spot more boat people. And nobody is going to invade us either.

    The Americans want us to have lots of modern planes to do their dirty work for them if they cause a conflict in S.E. Asia. They want us to pay for their conflicts, just as they make the UK, Canada, us, and NZ contribute to their wars.

    If you have the F-35s that just aren’t capable of dealing with the high threat zones, it just doesn’t do you any good of going ahead with the failed program and sink the money. Because the F-35 will be increasingly expensive aircraft that will ruin RAAF's requirements.

    Any public official who claims the F-35A is a true 5th Generation Fighter, has "comparable fighter performance to the legacy fighters" is giving false, misleading and reckless information which is a serious offence. They are also running the risk of committing an offence against Division 137 under Chapter 7 of the Federal Criminal Code.

    Australia doesn't need single engine. Basically you're just flushing the taxpayers money down into the toilet for acquiring the F-35.

    "Modern turbofan engines are very reliable and it won't fail".

    Well yes they are very reliable, but how can you be so sure that it doesn't fail. So just think for a minute, if the F-35 or any single engine aircraft flying over the ocean deploying to other country for ferry flight for example and the engine has been disabled or completely destroyed. What's the pilot going to do??? You can't restart the engine when its overheated etc, the plane will be gliding and very soon it starts to sink like a stone and the pilot has got no option but to eject and ends up in the ocean in the middle of nowhere. The cumulative cost of the aircraft and pilot looses with a single engine aircraft would be astronomical.

    Currently senior Defence has no capacity for realistic options. Because they are so deskilled. Defence is unable to get on the right direction because it currently has no critical thinking skills other than to decide what to order for lunch after seeing the latest PowerPoint brief from Lockheed Martin (and then taking those talking points and labelling them as analysis).

    Here is another part of the problem.

    The F-35 is at best unproven and at worst the biggest piece of high-tech boondoggle to ever come out of United States of America. The Just So Failed programme is certainly not worth a buy for any air force and navy's needs. For Australia we don't deserve underpowered aircraft.

    The F-35 cannot be regarded as a true "fifth-generation" fighter. Because the F-35 was defined during the mid-1990s to have “affordable” aerodynamic performance, stealth performance, sensor capabilities and weapons loads to be “affordably” effective against the most common threat systems of the era past – legacy Soviet Cold War era weapons, not for the emerging 21st Century Anti-Access & Area Denial threats.

    The F-35 is designed primarily to support ground forces on the battlefield with some self defence capabilities and is not suitable for the developing regional environment and, not suitable for close air support missions. The aircraft is unsuited for air superiority, deep interdiction bombing and cruise missile defence due to limited range/endurance, limited weapons load, limited supersonic speed and limited agility. As its limitations are inherent to the design, they cannot be altered by incremental upgrades.

    The F-35 will be ineffective against the current generation of extremely powerful advanced Russian and Chinese systems, as detailed above; In any combat engagements between the F-35 and such threat systems, most or all F-35 aircraft will be rapidly lost to enemy fire.

    If you have the F-35s that just aren’t capable of dealing with the high threat zones, it just doesn’t do you any good of going ahead with the failed program and sink the money. Because the F-35 will be increasingly expensive aircraft that will fail the air defence program which is designed to ruin any air force or navy's requirements.

    For more information on why the F-35 can't cut it on the modern battlefield.

    Choosing to acquire more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets is also just as bad as the F-35. Why?

    There was a damning report of the Super Hornet in areas of critical operational requirements, while praising it for its improved aircraft carrier capabilities when compared to the original F/A-18A-D Hornet – something not high on the list of essential criteria.

    Fundamental problems with the Super Hornet stem from the fact that this machine has seriously Degraded Operational Gradients (FT term for which the shorthand is DOG!). Three sentences on page eight of the report say it all: “The consequences of low specific excess power in comparison to the threat are poor climb rates, poor sustained turn capability, and a low maximum speed. Of greatest tactical significance is the lower maximum speed of the F/A-18E/F since this precludes the ability to avoid or disengage from aerial combat. In this regard, the F/A-18E/F is only marginally inferior to the F/A-18C/D, whose specific excess power is also considerably inferior to that of the primary threat, the MiG-29.”

    The F/A-18E/F has a similar performance deficiences to the F-35 which the aircraft has a short range and does not have the performance envelope of a true air superiority fighter compared to the F-15 for example. They will be outclassed by the Su-27/30 Flanker family of fighters by most regional nations in all key performance parameters, aerodynamic, bigger weapons payload, radar / sensor performance by widely available fighters.

    The F/A-18E/F is acknowledged in the report as being no match for even the older and newer MiG-29 family. Space precludes quoting the report’s comments on the multitude of other areas where the Super Hornet is inferior to the 1970s-designed and 1980s-built original F/A-18 aircraft. Admittedly the Block II Super Hornet has a new APG-79 AESA radar etc and can provide the pilot with equally impressive Situational Awareness. However, in a dog of an aircraft, all that impressive Situational Awareness is going to do is tell Super Hornet pilots how and when they are going to die. Some electronic components not in the version Coyle gave evidence on, but the fundamental airframe and performance remain unaltered: it is heavier, slower, larger and uglier (its radar signature did not measure up to expectations) than the normal Hornet.

    Evidently the underwing aero-acoustic environment and resulting vibrations are so violent that some weapons are being damaged in transit to the target on a single flight – dumb bombs are fine in that environment but not long-range missiles containing sophisticated and relatively delicate components. There is nothing super about this Hornet; perhaps “Stingless Super Dog” is a better descriptor.

    Australia will be outmatched in the region'' on air combat. ''If you send out Super Hornets or F-35s up against the Sukhoi Su-30 derivatives, few if any of them will come back,''

    What Australia really needs is these four things based on combat range, ferry range, sophistication of radar, and ordnance capacity. Don't cheap out again. Buy the most advanced but proven version of the F-15 Strike Eagle or Silent Eagle.

    The Advanced Super Hornet is almost as good as the F-35 but has the same service ceiling limitations etc as the Super Hornet.

    The F-15 still has plenty of life left. That Super Hornet and the F-35 are more of a turkey. Just compare the engines of an F-15 to the cans on the F/A-18, no way in hell the Super Hornet will ever achieve thrust parity with an F-15. I don't care how fancy the F414-GE-400 EPE engines will be. Australia is royally screwed now, because it’s true the F-35 will be dead meat in a battle against PacRim threats, but so will the F/A-18F Super Sluggish Dog which explains why it has no sting in its tail.

    This is what Australia should've considered alternatives to the F-35. The serious candidates would be listed in order of combat range.

    F-15 Silent Eagle - 720 nm (828 miles; 1,333 km) combat radius with an Internal Conformal Weapons Bays. 900 nm (1,035 mi, 1,666 km) for A/A (Air-to-Air), 1,000 nm (1,150 mi; 1,853 km) for max combat radius in A/G (Air-to-Ground) with x2 610 US gal (2,309 litre) external tanks and CFT's.

    Dassault Rafale – 593 nm (683 mi, 1,100 km) with three external tanks 1,135 gal (4,300 L), four MICA AAMs, and twelve 1,000 lb bombs. 798 nm (919 mi, 1,480 km) with three external tanks 1,585 gal (6,000 L), four MICA AAMs, and four 500 Ib GBU-12 LGBs. 988 nm (1,137 mi, 1,830 km) with two CFTs 607 gal (2,300 L), three external tanks 1,505 gal (5,700 L), two SCALP-EG and two MICA AAMs.

    Eurofighter Typhoon – Strike: 350 nm (403 mi, 650 km) (4 BVRAAM, 2WVRAAM, and 7,000Ib bombs, lo-lo-lo). Strike: 749 nm (863 mi, 1,390 km) (Basic loading for air-combat + LGB*3 + ARM*2 + pod*1, hi-lo-hi). Air Combat: 750 nm (863 mi, 1,389 km). Air-combat: 100 nm (114 mi, 185 km), 3hrs CAP

    They are the only three that should be on the short list, and the Eurofighter is questionable.

    These do not make the cut:

    JAS-39E/F Gripen NG – 701 nm (807 mi, 1,300 km)

    F/A-18E/F Advanced Super Hornet - 700 nm (805 mi, 1,296 km) with CFT's and weapons pod.

    F-35A - 540 nm (683 mi, 1,100 km)

    to be honest, there aren't any needs for these jets. Australia is close USA, and tbh, these small no. of jets aren't really that usefull in the time of need. That funding would be better off used for hospitals, health ....

    IMO someone from the US has got into the Liberal ears and convinced them that their project needs a kick in the bum and they are the ones to fix it.
    Australians paying to fix a US problem.

    Lets just forget that this is a $12B project. IT IS NOT. The Canadian Govt asked KMPG to cost the 65 F35 that Canada was to buy (Google KMPG, Canada and F35). The whole of life cost came to $48B. That is $740M per plane over its life. For the 72 that Australia want to buy it will be $53B.
    Does Australia need fighters the simple answer is YES?
    Australia needs a decent defense force that has equipment that works effectively and that we can afford. It is simply an insurance policy, just like the police or firebrigade. We cannot and should not rely on the US to protect our soils. There is ample historical references as to why.
    Apart from the obvious cost issues these planes are hangar queens. Their reliability rates are 1/3 what they should be, ie they break down 3 times more often than they should. Which means that at best the RAAF will have 1/3 of the 72 planes available at any one time. Now add to that these planes are currently banned from flighting at night or near thunderstorms means that if we buy these planes they would be useless in the far north of Australia.

    Generally the more problems a project has, the more it is exposed, the greater the cost, the more likely the government will say hell yeah. Abbott would buy these lemons just to stick to the projects critics.

    The future is probably going to be in piloted/un-piloted sub orbital hyper-sonic planes & missiles by the time this thing enters service anyway.

    As person knowing nothing about the criteria for evaluating these aeroplanes I can only recall from the 1960s the kerfuffle over the FIII.

    The FIII too ambitious a design (shades of TSR2), it had never flown, it was heavier than expected prompting the US Navy to cancel their order for the F14 "Tom Cat".

    In Australia the FIII was scorned as "The Flying Opera House" - the price went up and up, it needed endless design alterations, the specifications were found to exceed existing technological capabilities and nobody knew when it enter service (we cab scrub that one , at least).

    Any of this sound familiar?

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