The most expensive weapons system ("Time", USA)
Marine Corps Major Arik Lieberman (Aric Liberman) is unusually modest for a former "fur seal" who became a fighter pilot. He recently landed on the airfield of the main operating base of the aircraft F-35 - one of the 2457 fighters planned for production by the Pentagon. The total cost of all vehicles will be 400 billions of dollars, and it will be the most expensive weapons procurement program in stories of humanity. Standing in the midst of festive hype and commotion on this sunny day on an airfield in Yuma, Arizona, he denied photographers a request to raise their thumb up and pose for the cameras. “No, no, no,” he said, smiling.
Lieberman's restraint is understandable. Although the Marines welcomed his arrival, as this means that their first squadron, F-35, was in service, there is one stumbling block. “The squadron entered the combat squadron,” said the official representative of the Marine Corps, “but the aircraft has not been commissioned yet.”
F-35, designed to become a deadly 21-century sky hunter, itself became the subject of persecution and a model of the Pentagon's extravagance in the new era of budget savings. Instead of the star-striped flag on its fuselage, it is quite possible to draw a target for shooting, because the fire of criticism on it is constantly. Pilot helmets do not act as they should, the plane has not yet dropped a single bomb or fired any missiles, and the software necessary for the fighting remains on the drawing tablets.
That is why, when Lieberman planted his F-35 in front of a crowd of spectators, who were tensely waiting for landing, among them was Arizona Senator John McCain, he did not demonstrate one of his most striking characteristics: the ability to land in a helicopter using a rotary titanium nozzle, which creates lift traction. This is a trick for testers, not for combat pilots like him.
Meanwhile, the cost of airplanes has almost doubled since 2001, and today is 396 billion dollars. Production delays forced the Air Force and Navy to spend an additional at least 5 billion dollars to extend the life of existing machines. The Marine Corps, which is the cheapest kind of military (except for its love for almost vertical take-off and landing aircraft that are on its favorite aircraft carriers), spent 180 million dollars on 74 second-hand British AV-8 aircraft to disassemble them on spare parts for “Harriers” from the Reagan era, so that they can be further exploited until the F-35 is put into operation. Allied countries are already seriously considering alternatives to the F-35 fighter.
However, criticism will intensify further, as there are concerns that the costs of the F-35 will affect other military programs. If by 1 March, lawmakers do not agree on a budget, the Pentagon is threatened with spending cuts in the form of a sequestration of 500 more than billions of dollars. This means an 10 percent reduction in budget projects for the coming decade. Two years ago, the White House predicted that these cuts would be so burdensome for hawks from the Republican Party that no one would take them. But now the Great Old Party has split, and many of its members are more concerned about the deficit than the defense.
“We are probably spending 45% of the global defense budget. If we reduce this figure to 42 or to 43%, are we really in danger of some kind of invasion? Asked Republican member of the House of Representatives from Michigan, Justin Emash (Justin Amash) from a new generation of hawks and fighters with a deficit, for whom talking about spending is even more of a threat than war. “We are bankrupt our country, and this creates a great danger for us.”
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives began to talk about reducing military spending as something inevitable. President Obama warned that if Congress did not submit a new plan, "tough decisions will follow in the coming weeks," for example, the recent announcement that sending an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf is being postponed in order to save money.
The sad paradox is that reducing the cost of the F-35 at this stage will not provide significant savings in the short term, because the Pentagon recently signed contracts for this machine for almost 5 billion dollars. However, the mandatory reductions within the framework of the sequester will postpone the purchase of additional aircraft and the necessary tests for this at a later time, with the inevitable result in such a situation: the cost of each aircraft will increase even more. Unfortunately, this is nothing new for the F-35 Lightning II.
How did we get to this?
The single-engine F-35 single-seat aircraft is a vital example of an old saying that a camel is a horse, if the commission so decided. Imagine a flying Swiss army knife that can be used in an air battle, from which you can drop bombs and conduct reconnaissance. When fine tuning the hardware, the F-35A becomes subtle enough to be used in the Air Force. The ability to make a vertical landing allows the F-35B to land on amphibious assault ships. And the design of the F-35C, designed for the Navy, allows it to be used in heavy operations from aircraft carriers.
“We all laid eggs into one F-35 basket,” said Texas Republican senator John Cornyn. It would seem that with such an approach, the military should have taken the development of this machine very conservatively. But in fact, the Pentagon did just the opposite. He decided to build three versions of one aircraft at an average price of 160 million dollars each (problem # 1); agreed that airplanes should be multi-purpose, capable of performing different tasks (problem number 2); and then began to produce them, when the drawings had not yet been finalized - more than ten years before the completion of the most important developmental tests (problem number XXUMX). The military has already spent 3 a million dollars to repair purchased aircraft, and the final cost of repairing defective machines is estimated closer to 373 billions.
In 2002, the main purchaser weapons for the Pentagon, Edward Aldridge said that the F-35 "sets new standards for scientific and technological progress" and "rewrites books on procurement and commercial practice." His successor last year expressed a different opinion. “My words will make headlines if I say this, but I’ll still say it,” said Frank Kendall. - Starting the production of the F-35 several years before the first test flight was a flawed procurement practice. It should not have been done. ”
The Pentagon and its allies say that the need for the F-35 was so great that the aircraft had to be built at the same time as its design. (More than ten years have passed since the start of design, but the drawings of the machine change 10 times a day, seven days a week.) “Technological advantages of the American military aviation are less than five years in time, says Tom Donnelly, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “To preserve the quantitative and qualitative advantages, the United States today needs to adopt a fleet of fifth-generation fighters.”
Others say that no country in the world possesses weapons in such quantity and quality that now or in the future to challenge American domination, and that the rush to develop and create F-35 has internal rather than external causes. "We have always had such a sexual itch and the desire to have a new aircraft in every kind of military," said Tom Christie, who led the Pentagon in all testing weapons from 2001 to 2005 a year. - The pursuit is persistent, stubborn and natural. "
A born-born bastard turned out to be a compromise, and not the best option for each type of armed forces; but he was good enough for all three. Neither the Air Force nor the Navy liked its stump-like design. The small and wide fuselage of the F-35C forced the brake hook to be placed close to the chassis (2 with a small meter, while the F-18, which it will replace, has a distance equal to the 5,5 meter). Because of this, it is rather difficult to capture a brake cable on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Because of the short range of the flight, the aircraft carriers on which these vehicles are based will have to come close to the enemy’s shores so that the F-35C can perform its tasks. Without refueling in the air with the help of bulky refueling aircraft, the F-35C can only fly with external fuel tanks, and this negates its stealth characteristics, which are the main combat advantage of this vehicle.
Due to the inclusion of three types of armed forces in the program, management flexibility has deteriorated, and the taxpayer has been put in a very difficult position. Each species had its own leverage, as everyone could threaten to quit the program. Therefore, the problems of cost receded into the background, and the main issue was the characteristics of the aircraft. “The air force could, in principle, take on the naval version, gaining a significantly longer range and constructive strength,” says John Young Jr, who held senior civilian positions in the Navy and the Pentagon from 2001 to 2009 a year. “However, the Air Force Command refused to consider this option.”
But if the Navy and Young were unhappy with the actions of the Air Force, then the Air Force itself was unhappy with the actions of the marines. “This is a program that creates jobs in the Marine Corps Aviation,” said retired General Merrill McPeak, who served as chief of staff of the Air Force from 1990 to 1994 year. “The idea that we can create a common structure for everyone is wrong from the beginning.” He mockingly speaks about the requirement for the Marines to make a plane with a vertical landing, stating: "The idea of landing on the coast in order to support the troops near some improvised airfield, a la Guadalcanal, was not destined to be fulfilled."
By focusing on waging two wars after September 11, the Pentagon loosened control over the F-35 program. As a result, costs have increased significantly, and the backlog is 10 years. The F-35 Marine Corps was to appear in the troops and begin combat operations in April 2010; Air Force aircraft in June 2011, and the naval version in April 2012. Having broken with the existing tradition, the Pentagon today does not set a deadline for the “initial commissioning” for any of these aircraft, and therefore delays may be several years.
Whatever the merits of this aircraft, lawmakers pushing through this program can hardly be called impartial observers. Those 48 congressional group members who advocated a unified strike fighter, and many of whom sit on the Pentagon’s oversight commissions, received twice as many donations from their F-35 contractors for their election campaign in 2012 than non-members the composition of the candidates. Those voters who voted for these legislators, in turn, occupy jobs in the 45 states of 133000 under the F-35 creation program. (Lockheed Martin, which creates this machine, says that the number of jobs will double when mass production begins.)
The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin have been in a state of war for many years, which further aggravates the situation. Air Force Lieutenant-General Christopher Bogdan, who holds a senior executive position on the F-35 program in the Pentagon, said last summer that the relationship between them was "the most disgusting of all I have seen - and I have seen a lot." However, the parties say that the worst is over. Lockheed Martin President Marilyn Hewson (Marillyn Hewson) last month said that the aircraft’s raid was 5000 flight hours, that its flight test program was accelerated, and that the range of aircraft operating conditions was steadily expanding. “Our growing production line, operational sustainability and advanced pilot training are all indicative of the fact that the F-35 program is moving along a positive trajectory,” she said. Deliveries of the new F-35 machines in 2012 more than doubled, making up 30 units.
Pilots love the F-35. In the cockpit, he has new appliances, keys and digging. “Before you, a large touchscreen display is an interface for the iPad generation,” said test colonel colonel Arthur Tomassetti. - Light movements of the left and right hands you can make this plane do what you want. And if you don’t want to do anything with it, it will be in the mode in which you left it. ” So fly it easy. “I look at the emerald sea against the white sands,” says Tomasetti about his flights along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, which he makes from Florida from Eglin airbase. “I remember my numerous flights on other planes when I did not have time for such things.”
But military technology for the past few years away from the manned fighter. Unmanned aerial vehicles, weapons used beyond the reach of means of destruction, as well as GPS-guided bombs reduce the practicality and usefulness of manned aircraft that have such a short range. Their shortcomings become even more noticeable in connection with the reversal of the Pentagon toward the Pacific Ocean. There, the small combat range of the F-35 (755 kilometers for marines, 940 kilometers for the Air Force and 990 kilometers for the Navy) creates even more serious problems for him.
The main thing in the management of the aircraft is computers. But instead of taking advantage of simplicity, the F-35 goes in a different direction. The complexity of his device can be judged by the 24 millions of lines of aircraft computer command set, including 9,5 million on board the machine. This is more than six times more than the maritime version of the F-18. F-35, state auditors say, "is as complex as everything on earth."
The computers were supposed to replace most of the prototypes, allowing the production of all three versions of the F-35 on the assembly line in Texas to begin at the same time. That's exactly what Toyota did, starting at the same time to produce Avalon, Camry and Venza brands at its huge Kentucky facility. “Advances in technology, design tools, and the manufacturing process have significantly changed the course of design and construction,” said the main purchaser of weapons for the Pentagon, Paul Kaminski, in 1997.
But Lockheed is not Toyota. Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, now the bible of the aerospace industry and its traditional proponent, published an editorial last fall claiming that the program had "already failed" in terms of cost and delivery schedule, and that its specifications were still through. not confirmed. The magazine proposed to put the F-35 against the existing F-15 and F-16 fighters in the Air Force and F-18 from the naval forces, compare them and determine the prospects for the procurement of fighter equipment.
J. Michael Gilmore, who replaced Christie as the chief test officer for the Pentagon, reported in January that all three versions of the car would be less speedy and more maneuverable than originally thought. Due to the weight loss of the vehicle, it has become 25% more vulnerable to enemy fire. According to him, in the period from March to October, only one of the three F-35 planes, on which the US military is flying, was ready to fly.
Such problems inevitably cause delays, and this inexorably leads to higher prices. "Lockheed Martin and the F-35 program did not show any response to cost increases," said military aviation specialist Richard Abulafia, who works for the Teal Group, which analyzes the activities of the military-industrial complex. “Because of this, the program becomes very vulnerable.”
And the clouds continue to thicken. The leadership of the Pentagon and Lockheed knows that in order to reduce the cost of the aircraft, they need to sell hundreds of F-35 to a dozen countries. However, Canada announced in December that it would look for alternatives to the planned purchases of X-NUMX F-65 machines. She did it after an independent analysis found that the total cost of these machines for the entire life of their operation will be almost 35 billion dollars, which is approximately twice the previous estimates (the forecast for the cost of American cars is 46 trillion dollars). Australia recently announced that it wants to additionally purchase Boeing’s F-1,5 24 aircraft manufactured in St. Louis. This is almost a one hundred percent guarantee that it will reduce the volume of purchases of F-18, which according to the plan amounts to 35 machines.
Is this a correct airplane?
While the question of how to make the F-35 right is now being actively discussed, there is a more important question: is it the right aircraft for the American military in the 21st century? The F-35 is a so-called fifth generation fighter. This means that it should be invisible from the ground itself to enemy radars, which can be used to search for and destroy it. Everyone in military circles was talking about "stealth" technology when the Pentagon plotted the F-35 program. But that was long before the stage was confidently taken Drones. They made the idea of human flight through barrage of anti-aircraft artillery and rockets seem strange and even eccentric. "The Air Force," says Abulafia, "drank too much pink liquid while toasting the fifth generation."
More sophisticated sensors and computer technologies reduce the value of stealth by day, says Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Jonathan Greenert. Over time, he warns, our potential adversary will have enough information on stealth aircraft to counter them.
The Air Force feared that "additional purchases of fourth-generation fighters would create a direct threat to the programs for building a fifth-generation fighter." Lt. Col. Christopher Niemi, who has flown an F-22 for many years, wrote about this in the November-December issue of the Air & Space Power Journal. The Air Force's refusal to consider purchasing new fourth-generation F-15s and F-16s instead of the F-35 "threatens to reduce the number of Air Force fighter aircraft to dangerously low levels, especially given the current budgetary constraints," he said.
To ensure stealth, you have to sacrifice range, flight time and airborne weapons - and these are the three main components of air combat. All of these factors determined the fate of the F-22 fighter, the only fifth-generation combat aircraft in the United States. He has been standing idle in hangars all over the world for seven years now, and the country at this time waged and leads wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. However, the F-22, built to wage the wars of the future with the enemy, which does not yet exist, has not yet taken off for a single combat mission.
If 1 is sequestrated in March, the production of the F-35 will slow down and its flight tests will be postponed. This is clearly the leaders of this program. Because of this, the plane will eventually become more expensive.
But the Pentagon literally 100 hours before the first term of the sequestration, scheduled for January 2, struck a contract for an 31 aircraft worth 4,8 billion dollars. Due to this, a significant part of the program will be continued and will go on autopilot.
“The F-35 program created a good buffer, getting a contract for the next batch of aircraft in a timely manner,” says military budget expert from the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments) Todd Harrison. - This means that Lockheed and all its subcontractors will receive a large order and the amount of work that the sequestration will not affect in any way. So while they can continue their work in accordance with the plan. "
Apparently, in the end, F-35 will still be very unobtrusive.
- Mark Thompson (MARK THOMPSON)