Selling Airplanes

I’m a retired USAF Colonel. Most of my career was spent managing fighter aircraft maintenance. Since retiring I’ve watched with amazement how mismanaged and poorly led our nation’s defense forces have been under the last three Presidents. But I haven’t said much publicly because I didn’t feel I had anything specific expertise to bring to the discussion.

I understand that program manager LtGen Christopher Bogdan’s primary job is to sell the F-35. Preferably sell it by bringing a necessary, useful, effective aircraft into production. If that doesn’t work, he’s still to sell F-35s both to Congress and to foreign countries, whose purchase of American fighters helps our economy and eases some of our defense burden. (Look at all the foreign countries lined up to buy F-35, if only we can make it work.)

The F-35 was designed by a committee to fulfill mutually-exclusive needs of the Air Force, Navy and Marines with a single airframe. Perhaps it could be done, but it wasn’t. The F-35 is a marginally performing, overweight, overcost government mess.

Bogdan’s job is made difficult because the Air Force already processes an operational airframe which does one of the F-35s missions much better than the F-35 does: the A-10. The A-10 is currently operational and as effective as the F-35 at the very specific job of Close Air Support. (Does CAS better than the F-16, too.) Therefore, Bogdan is trying to kill the A-10. Why?

“You have to have about 1,100 maintainers by 2016 to man and maintain those airplanes,” General Bogdan said last week. “What I’ve learned is a combination of those 1,100 people includes new trainees and experienced maintainers from other platforms to include the A-10. If we don’t get rid of the A-10, then you don’t get experienced maintainers.”

Do you follow the logic? We have to steal people from a successful program to prop up an unsuccessful program.

The F-35 is a pig. And the AF is willing to sacrifice the A-10 to pay for it.
And it’ll cost real America warfighting ability. Because we really don’t need F-35s. Oh, American industry needs the F-35 but another hundred F-22s would have done the job just fine. Other than Close Air Support that F-22 can do anything the F-35A can do—most of it better. (No, it can’t take off vertically, but that’s part of why the F-35 is such a mess.)

My suggestion? Abandon the F-35 and start over. In the meantime restart the F-22 line—no upgrades, no mods. (I know it’s not that simple, but my logic is no worse than Bogdan’s.) Just buy another 100 F-22s identical to the last one, throw away the F-35 (the Navy and Marines never wanted it) and start over.

Okay, pride and politics won’t allow that. Eventually we’ll make it work. Shedding a few missions and varieties might make it easier.

Meanwhile, don’t throw the A-10 away until the F-35 does work.

Here’s some further background: