The Pentagon's pursuit of the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jet has been a heartbreaking one. If you're a tax payer, the program's estimated $1 trillion price tag probably breaks your heart a little bit. If you're an aviation enthusiast, the constant whittling away of the do-it-all aircraft's features, which in many cases actually amounts to adding weight and taking away maneuverability, must hurt a little bit, too.
If you're just an everyday American, though, you should be downright shattered that after a decade and a fortune spent, the F-35 will actually be more vulnerable than the aircraft it's replacing. At this point, the Pentagon is literally rewriting its rulebook so that the dumbed-down super jet will pass muster.
The Defense Department's annual weapons testing report reveals that the military actually adjusted the performance specifications for the consistently-underperforming line of F-35 fighter jets. In other words, they couldn't get the jets to do what they were supposed to do, so they just changed what they were supposed to do.
"The program announced an intention to change performance specifications for the F-35A, reducing turn performance from 5.3 to 4.6 sustained g’s and extending the time for acceleration from 0.8 Mach to 1.2 Mach by eight seconds," reads the report drafted under J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. (The F-35A is the standard model, so to speak, that the Air Force will use. The line also includes the F-35B, the Harrier-like vertical landing version built for the Marines, and the F-35C, a Navy version that's optimized for aircraft carrier takeoffs and landings.)
To put it bluntly, the Pentagon's new trillion-dollar fighter jet doesn't go a fast as it should, doesn't turn as sharp as it should and doesn't handle as nimbly as it should. This is bad news, explains Wired's David Axe. For the pilots who will eventually take the F-35 into combat, the JSF’s reduced performance means they might not be able to outfly and outfight the latest Russian- and Chinese-made fighters," writes Axe. "Even before the downgrades, some analysts questioned the F-35′s ability to defeat newer Sukhoi and Shenyang jets." That all sounds like bad news, doesn't it? If our expensive new jets can't beat the Russians or the Chinese, who can we fight? I'm pretty sure al Qaeda doesn't have an air force.
The good news in the new Pentagon report is that... well, there is no good news, really. Not only have the requirements been adjusted down to make up for the F-35's poor performance, but a series of problems with the plane's software and safety measures hint at future downgrades to the jet, including adding on heavy hardware that will make the planes even more sluggish. That's what you get when you try to design a single plane to do everything–ironically enough, which was done partly to cut development costs. At least they still look cool:
Image via Wikimedia