Air Force Chief of Staff wants new, low-cost fighter to supplement F-35 and F-22

| February 25, 2021

The long-in-development, expensive, flashy, packed with technology (some of which doesn’t even get used by the pilots – looking at you voice command system) F-35 has “failed” according to Forbes. In the now textbook example of feature creep on big ticket defense projects, the F-35, once supposed to be the low-cost fighter of the future, is too costly to replace the roughly 1,000 F-16s in use by the USAF. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Charles Brown Jr. wants to invest in yet another new, as-yet-unnamed or planned truly low-cost fighter to supplement the over-priced stealth F-35 and F-22 (ironically considered so costly they cancelled the production run early and destroyed all the dies in favor of the F-35).

The last block of F-16s was purchased by the USAF in 2001. After two decades of war they are old. Gen Brown prefers not to invest in old technology by purchasing the latest F-16 models. It should be noted, the development of the F-16 has continued the last twenty years and our allies are buying the latest, upgraded versions for their own air defenses.

This is all going on at the same time that the F-35 has been found to be deficient in filling the roles of other aging fighters. The F-15, a design dating back to the Vietnam-era, is currently undergoing flight testing of a new iteration of the venerable fighter (an Israeli one landed with only one wing once, and no F-15 has ever been lost in air-to-air combat). The F-15EX is planned to replace 1980s and 90s vintage F-15s because it’s cheaper to develop and buy the EX than it would be to get the F-35 to fill the same role.

The F-35 was conceived with the best of intentions. A single airframe for all three branches (Air Force, Navy, and Marines), as well as numerous allied nations. It would replace at least a half dozen aircraft in service (including the F-16, A-10, AV-8B, A-6, and F-14). The problem is that the three versions are, despite outward appearances, completely different aircraft. The supposed cost saving of shared parts is nearly non-existent. With all the roles it’s supposed to fill, the F-35 is becoming a classic case of jack of all trades, master of none.

Read Forbes’ take on it here.

Category: "Your Tax Dollars At Work", Air Force

Comments (41)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH B Woodman Domestic Violent Extremist says:

    And the key phrase here is, “with the best of intentions”.

    • Hondo says:

      Multi-purpose tools rarely work particularly well for any of their intended functions.

      The same is true regarding “bleeding-edge” technology.

      Put both together in the same system, and you have a prescription for disaster.

      • RGR 4-78 says:

        “Put both together in the same system, and you have a prescription for disaster.”

        And quite possibly a little of the old kickback as well as post service job offers, maybe.

        • Mason says:

          Good thing the new SecDef wasn’t on the board of any government contractors for these projects. Raytheon makes wool blankets and styrofoam coolers, right?

          • 26Limabeans says:

            Heh, the retirement pension check shows up every month.
            Thirty years of engineering wool blankets and testing
            styrofoam coolers on the weekends keeps me warm at night.

            Then there is that gig with General Dynamics that pays a
            small premium each month. Ike was right but I took advantage
            of his warning and made out like a bandit. Now an old man,
            I have no regrets. There is money to be made in defense wether we
            have wars or not. I can’t change that so I might as well get my
            tax dollars back in the form of a good job. It paid off.
            It still pays off. I highly recommend defense work whether it’s
            beans, bullets or some multirole jet fighter/bomber/wool blanket.

      • Jus Bill says:

        There’s an old saying in the procurement world:

        “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”

  2. USAFRetired says:

    In the 1960s there was a program to build a single airgrame for all the services. The TFX (Tactical Fighter Experimental) was fielded as the F-111. The F-111A went into Air
    force production. The F-111B obstensibly the Navy variant was never fielded and the handful of airframes were sold to the RAAF (Australian Air Force) as F-111C. The USAF developed follow on versions F-111 D/E/F and a stop gap strategic bomber version (FB-111)

    • 5JC says:

      Great air craft. Expensive to maintain. Worked great for Australia and gave them real regional strike capabilities.

    • cowpill says:

      I loved the F-111. I remember as a kid when my dad was stationed at Cannon, watching the birds take off at night and waking up and hearing the thunder of the engines. Dad worked with the simulators and I would climb all over them.

  3. 5JC says:

    The current F15 is a bad ass aircraft. It may cost more than the F35 but it is worth it IMO.

  4. TopGoz says:

    The cost of the F-15 is what got us the F-16, with the Eagle intended for air superiority and the Falcon being a low-cost, light weight all-around fighter.
    The F-22 is the modern air superiority fighter and the F-35 is intended to fill all the other fixed-wing, pointy-nose jet roles.
    And to clarify, the F-35 is not replacing the A-6 or the F-14, both of which were retired long ago. The A-6’s night attack mission was taken on by the F/A-18D and the F-14’s fleet defense role went to the Super Hornet F-18E.
    For the Navy and Marines, the F-35 is replacing the “legacy Hornets” F/A-18A-D models and the Harrier AV-8 for the Marines.

    • President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH B Woodman Domestic Violent Extremist says:

      And so far, NOTHING replaces the A10 Warthog (an Army Ground Pounder’s Bestest Friend Forever!)

  5. KoB says:

    Seems like we had this conversation during the development of the F35. Many of our miscreanted d’weeds were more familiar with the ongoing program and stated that putting more lipstick on that pig didn’t keep it from being a pig.

    And no way we’re gonna be able to build a “throw away” “cheap” aircraft. The procurement system doesn’t work that way. Plus you gotta figure in the extry 10% for the Big Guy now. Aircraft are like pick up trucks. Can’t buy just a basic model that gets the job done anymore. Besides, by the time the initial design was drawn, the swarms of Chinese Communist throwaways will be pouring over to Taiwan and the Korean Peninsular.

    Saw a blurb in my local EMC monthly magazine on evening past about Rosie Riveters. A brand new B24 was rolling off the assembly line every hour. Never see that in these times. They’re shutting down auto assembly plants because of a shortage of chips for trucks. Do believe there are a few more chips in modern aircraft than there are in trucks.

    • FuzeVT says:

      “Plus you gotta figure in the extry 10% for the Big Guy now”

      I saw how you snuck that in there. . .

    • 26Limabeans says:

      “Do believe there are a few more chips in modern aircraft than there are in trucks”

      I’ll bet USB ports are a big priority.
      And TEMPEST certified at that.

  6. Ret_25X says:

    hahahahahahahahaha

    the CSAF’s name is literally Charlie Brown!

    hahahahahahahaha

  7. Slow Joe says:

    I don’t understand.

    I thought the F-35 had proven to be a game changer since its introduction, being able to coordinate targeting from many different platforms at the same time.

  8. Slow Joe says:

    We can have 100000000 WW1 biplane airplanes, or 50 F-35.

    Your choice.

    • David says:

      From https://www.theredstonerocket.com/military_scene/article_7506b6da-416d-11e3-9375-0019bb2963f4.html “A typical two-seater near the end of World War I, having more than 50,000 parts, required 4,000 hours of labor to assemble. The cost to build such machines was quite staggering, especially to procure the types of engines needed. The British Rolls Royce Eagle and American Liberty, both premier power plants by 1918, cost $7,000-8,000 1918-dollars apiece at a time when Ford was selling his Model T automobile for $400. More common engines, such as the Clerget rotary used in the Sopwith Camel, or the Hispano-Suiza used in the SE-5a, fetched about $4,500. Airframes, without the instruments or armament, typically cost about the same as the engine. As a consequence, in 1918 the standard Sopwith Camel airframe and engine went for around $250,000 current U.S. dollars. Two Vickers machine guns and instrumentation could easily add another $100,000 to the price package, making the typical World War I fighting aircraft a very costly machine indeed.” So 100,000,000 of them would cost about $350,000 each for a total of $35,000,000,000,000.

      Now at https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/news/a25678/the-cost-of-new-fighters-keeps-going-up-up-up/ it says the cost of an F35 averages about $100,000,000 apiece, or for 50 a total of $5,000,000,000.

      I am missing where 5 BILLION is the same as $35 TRILLION. You work for Pelosi’s budget department maybe?

  9. FuzeVT says:

    I have lots of opinions about the F-35, but I’ll just say this.

    If the USAF’s plan was to completely replace their current stock of fighters with this one aircraft, then it was the thinking of those planners that is at fault. It may also have been over promising on the part of Lockheed – I don’t discount that. But if someone were to tell me that their plan was to have a plane in three variants that will replace the AV-8B, A-10, F-16, F-15, and F-18, do all of their jobs better, be near invisible to radar, and be less expensive (because of the parts sharing, you see), I would have told that someone they were insane. . . and bound to failure. And so it has come to pass.

    What it seems we do have, is a very capable, highly advanced, stealth aircraft. Where it may not do exactly the same as the other air frames, it is capable of things the others aren’t. Stealth, for example, has a quality all its own.

    I would think that having older (yet hardly incapable) aircraft in the fleet would have been the plan all the time. Why doesn’t the Army have divisions of Delta Force guys? Because it takes more time, effort and assets to make elite soldiers (aside from the difficulty of finding the right people). Same should be true in the AF. Have your F-22s and 35s for stealthy missions and have an A-10 with nearly 4 times the bomb capacity of a B-17 hung under its wings for missions that require a hammer and not a scalpel.

    • Poetrooper says:

      Precisely–and an excellent analogy. Those who fly the F-35 (and those who have flown against it) have no doubts as to its superior capabilities in performing those stealth missions.

      Was there a lot of hyperbole and over-selling done by F-35 proponents in getting their program approved? You bet–that’s always the case with next-generation platforms, and in the case of the F-35, because of its very high cost, even more so.

      But that doesn’t negate the fact that if and when the balloon goes up, we’re gonna be damned glad we have those highly capable scalpels out there making those surgical strikes.

      Now we need to get to work developing and building lots of far less costly hammers for those “pounding-the-shit-out-of-em” missions.

    • Mason says:

      That’s exactly what they’re planning on doing now. The F-22 flies overwatch and takes out enemy fighters. The F-35 with its stealth and networking capabilities will fly over the battlefield and call out shots to the F-16, F-15, A-10.

      The F-35 can do ground attack and light bombing missions, but has a limited internal weapons capacity. The minute you strap stuff on externally all that fancy, expensive stealth goes out the window.

      Ground troops love the A-10 and the AC-130 because they just bring assloads of whoop-ass down. They’re also rugged as hell and reliable to a fault. The fighter mafia in the Air Force is very, very real and prefers flashy, fancy high-G fighter jets.

      We should be looking at what we do for our allied militaries. We put cheap, reliable, capable aircraft in the inventories of the Iraqi and Afghani Air Forces. Planes like the Texan II or Super Tucano are great light attack and counter-insurgency platforms. It won’t happen. We use those aircraft as trainers to learn how to fly the real fighters.

      • FuzeVT says:

        The first time I saw one flying was at an air show at Bellchase near NOLA. It was flying so slowly, it made me think of a line from the Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, “they hung in the air in the same way that bricks don’t”.
        As a Marine, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the A-10. As an arty FO, I got to do a nine-line for one once at Fort Bragg – the sound is just awesome!!! BBBBBBRRRRRRTT!!
        I just wish we could have been able to put a hook on it and fold the wings. I bet some Lance corporals with Leatherman and some duct tape could have done that.

      • timactual says:

        We have fewer than 200 F-22s, and no capability to make more.

        How is the F-35 going to network and spot targets without becoming a radio/radar beacon?

  10. Sparks says:

    Multi-purpose things. Like the Cresent Wrench.

    It’s sorta good. If you want the bolt “rounded to specs”.

  11. ChipNASA says:

    Yeah, well,

  12. Jus Bill says:

    Based on their current direction, the Xiden Pentagon will just buy J-22s, produced here by PLA labor under a CPFF IDIQ.

  13. The Other Whitey says:

    So, the F-5 all over again?

    • 5JC says:

      Actually if they brought back the F4E that would work and give a lot more capability. No need to spend a bunch of money. Other than the need to spend a bunch of money that is.

      • The Other Whitey says:

        Well, it is the World’s Leading Distributor of MiG Parts, and it beats the air into submission all the way up to Mach 2.5…

        They could certainly do a whole lot worse.

  14. Green Thumb says:

    Lets just hope that All-Points Logistics does not get a part of the contact….

  15. Thunderstixx says:

    Not to change the subject on a great topic, but I would just like to add that today is the 30 year anniversary of the Battle of 73 Easting.
    It was the largest tank upon tank battle in history with the American M-1 Abrams taking all the glory and kudos by knocking out literally all of the Russian made T-72.
    The ass whuppin’ upon the Iraqi conscript armies was complete.
    It is the period of time that saw Iraqi Soldiers surrendering to drones and other drones like, the TEN MILLION BODY BAG’S, CNN as they pushed the narrative that America could never beat any other military power because of what is now called white privilege…..
    Everything has changed since that great show of honor by my old CO, Colonel, (at the time he was in Alaska) Norman Schwarzkopf.
    He was the greatest CO I ever had the privilege to serve under, a great man and a great warrior…..
    I Still can’t believe that he joined the dark side and campaigned for the d-rats…
    Rest in Peace General, your work is complete.

    • Thunderstixx says:

      Here’s the Battle Swarm Blog link for a great play by play of the action of the people that finally made it possible for any of us Vietnam Era or real Vietnam Veterans proud to be a Veteran.
      Prior to that I downplayed it all the time as I just fought the Cold War in Alaska…..
      And became a US Army Certified Ski Instructor when I PCS’d to the Lower 48.
      Thanks for all you did for us guys and gals.

      https://www.battleswarmblog.com/?p=47214

  16. A Terminal Lance Coolie says:

    I’ve spent a bunch of time over the last few years pointing out how screwed up the F-35 sales pitch was.

    The F-15 was designed to be an air superiority fighter. That was it. Then some mad lad stuck bombs on it, gave it better air-to-ground targeting abilities, and made a damn fine tactical precision strike aircraft (F-15E) out of it. The F-16 was a lightweight, inexpensive fighter that eventually wound up carrying basically everything conventional in the USAF arsenal, but they were originally to supplement the air superiority mission. The list goes on.

    The bottom line has been, and is, to design an aircraft to do a particular mission, then adapt it to others if it can do the original job. Sometimes it fails (F-16 with podded GAU-8 to replace the A-10), sometimes you get the Strike Eagle. Either way, even if it fails, the plane is still useful, and the process is wildly cheaper, since it doesn’t involve so many design compromised.

    Now, if someone could remind the military, Congress, and Lockheed (who should know better!) of these facts, maybe theyd stop wasting our taxpayer dollars chasing unicorns and spend them a bit better.

  17. Mustang Major says:

    I understand the USAF is under pressure to replace the term “cockpit” with a gender neutral term.

    “Joystick” isn’t far behind.