About Your $600 Million Cut…


Donald Trump announced a $600 million cut to the cost of the F-35 joint strike fighter. That sounds pretty good, unless you look at the $600 million stacked up against the total program cost, which is going to be nearly $1 trillion by the time the first-order fleecing is complete. [cnbc]

Flying Toast

It’s hard to sort through what’s going to cost what – deliberately hard. That ought to be a warning to anyone, and anyone who has studied defense procurement at all knows that procurement pricing is a great big game – if Lockheed Martin gave Donald Trump a $600 cost-cut, it was probably by leaving out the seats of the aircraft, or something. “Oh, you wanted seats? Those are an option. Lemme see, seats are $2 billion now. You should have ordered them when you ordered the plane, it’s cheaper that way!”

President Donald Trump claimed Monday that Lockheed Martin cut $600 million off the cost of the F-35 fighter jet program that he has repeatedly slammed for cost overruns and delays.

Trump said it applied to the next 90 planes. The F-35 currently has a per-unit cost of about $100 million, which the company pledged to bring down even before Trump became involved.

There’s one indicator of a price-shuffle right there: “for the next 90 planes” pricing – that’s like those credit cards that advertise “low 2% APR (for the first 3 months)” and then, once you’ve run some debt up on them, it bungies back up to 20% or something ridiculous. It’s virtually impossible, by design, to tell what’s going on in procurement pricing, but my example of the seats may not be so funny – it would not be at all beyond the Pentagon to buy 90 aircraft at a special set price because they are literally unflyable but they’ll be made to fly later, at twice the price of the basic plane. If you do the thinking on that, you’ll realize that it’s the same pricing strategy as “buy a plane that doesn’t work now, and we’ll let you but a whole new plane that does, later!”

The F-35 was declared “combat ready” [dod]

The F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation fighter aircraft was declared “combat ready” yesterday by Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command.

That was following a successful deployment to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. Where it could be “combat ready” while the software to make it combat capable was still being developed. Got that? Now, today, the F-35 with its new Block 3F software build is capable of using all the weapons it was designed to use (including great big old school bombs that negate its stealth) By August 2017 I think it would be fair to say that the F-35 was starting to function. In order to make sure that the money-valve for the program remain in the full “on” position, though, it was important to get those F-35s deployed so they could drive around and fly around and pilots could practice with them. Presumably they yelled “PEW PEW PEW!” into their radios when they needed to do ‘combat’ stuff. [pm]

It gets more complicated because some of the earlier model F-35s may not be able to integrate the Block 3F software and the aircraft will need to be upgraded, at … (wait for it) nearly the cost of an aircraft. In case you ever wondered what the aircraft graveyard at Nellis AFB is full of: it’s full of ‘upgrade orphans’ from earlier programs that were deployed like this. In fairness, there is some rationale behind all this: it’s good to test and train on aircraft even if they are not “combat capable” – since you wind up with “combat ready” pilots and don’t have to field aircraft that the pilots don’t know how to fly. I’m willing to accept that some of this is justified and makes sense, but it’s one of the reasons why military weapons systems costs keep spiralling up and up. That, and the ridiculous profiteering and corruption.

But…

If you were reading this blog back in 2016, I explained how procurement costs are manipulated by adjusting the quantity of units purchased for a fixed cost: “pay more, get less.” [stderr]

Oh, boy, right again.

Fortune magazine reports the Air Force party line, pretending that this is all how it’s done, kind of. [fortune]

The U.S. Air Force may have to cut its purchases of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 by a third if it can’t find ways to reduce operations and support costs by as much as 38 percent over a decade, according to an internal analysis.

The shortfall would force the service to subtract 590 of the fighter jets from the 1,763 it plans to order, the Air Force office charged with evaluating the F-35’s impact on operations and budgets, in an assessment obtained by Bloomberg News.

See what they did there? It’s exactly what I predicted in 2016: they’re going to pay the same amount of money for 1/3 fewer planes. Of course there are still going to be massive cost overruns but the per-plane cost still jumped 33%!

This, by the way, is part of why the F-22 – which, by most accounts is now a pretty sorted-out aircraft that effectively dominates any air-space it’s in – is being retired: there aren’t enough of them. Because, in order to keep boosting the cost, they bought fewer and fewer (for the same price) until now they only have a pathetic little squadron of planes.

If the Air Force pays the same amount, but gets 590 fewer aircraft for the price, and the cost per aircraft is $100 million, the Air Force just agreed to pay $59 billion dollars more, were they to buy the original number of aircraft. But, don’t worry – that number appears to have been inflated, already, to allow for the scalping: the original ‘buy’ of the program was for 4,900 aircraft. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “wait, what the fuck? If that’s such an uber-aircraft, what do they intend to do with 4,900 of them!?

Actually, those aircraft were never planned to exist. They ‘existed’ on the budget so that they could be ‘cut’ once there was no longer any need to pretend that the government would get a good price per aircraft because it was buying in bulk. They knew, all along, that this was going to happen.

Those that are not on the upgrade cycle will get parked to decay in the desert sun in Arizona. Those “combat ready” planes that “deployed” to Idaho: they’re going to end up here because it’d cost too much money to make them combat ready. That’s what those aircraft in the picture are:

Airplane graveyard, Tuczon, AZ

“The long-term support concerns are on top of current F-35 challenges including parts shortages, unavailable aircraft and technical issues that must be resolved as the program ends its 17-year development phase. In September, the F-35 is to begin as much as a year of rigorous combat testing that’s required by law. Successful testing would trigger full-rate production, the most profitable phase for Lockheed, as soon as late 2019.”

It’s “combat ready”, remember but they still have to do “combat testing” before they start backing up great big dump trucks full of money outside of Lockheed’s headquarters.

What did you want? Teachers’ salaries? Single payer medical care? Public election funding? Mental hospitals? A national-level oversight agency to regulate city/state policing?

Upkeep costs for the F-35 are also a challenge for allies buying the plane, including the U.K., Australia and Italy.

Translating that from the original bullshit, they mean “the British, Italians and Australians are catching on that this is an overpriced plane that still is not combat ready, and may not buy it.” If that happens, then the per-unit plane cost is going to go right through the roof and the Air Force will announce that it’s going to pay the same amount and will accept fewer aircraft.

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In a comment on an earlier post, Commentariat Propaganda Agent Crimson Clupeidae [stderr] suggested the movie Pentagon Wars [imdb], which is excellent and features a great performance by Kelsey Grammar. It describes some of the shenanigans around the procurement of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (AKA “the fighting vehicle that is such a bad armored personnel carrier we can’t call it that, and such a bad tank we can’t call it that, either!”) What is scary is that some of the dodges that the corrupt manufacturers pull are exactly the sort of thing that actually happened. It is played for laughs but it’s basically a documentary.

Comments

  1. chigau (違う) says

    It’s like some surreal perpetual motion machine of spending.
    or is it a feedback loop?

  2. says

    Translating that from the original bullshit, they mean “the British, Italians and Australians are catching on that this is an overpriced plane that still is not combat ready, and may not buy it.”

    Ok, I understand the reasons why U.S. is buying overpriced war junk. But why are other countries buying U.S. made overpriced war junk? Don’t they understand that this is overpriced junk?

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Assume that I know nothing about military hardware and procurement since that knowledge approximates to zero anyway.

    Very little in the airframe is going to be new – stealth was new for a while, but we’ve gone beyond 4G now, supposedly.

    The engines can be made relatively easy to maintain: we have commercial engines that put out huge amounts of thrust that fly regular schedules with relatively little downtime.

    Computer control systems might need to be custom created, but at least some functions can be handled by off-the-shelf products, and manufacturing custom circuit boards isn’t that big a deal today anyway. You can get them packaged in $2k audio equipment, so the board itself, after amortizing R&D, costs for shipping, retail markup, blah, blah, has to be less than $500 even if its the single most expensive thing in the unit (and that doesn’t seem especially likely).

    So, assuming that the military pays the exorbitant costs of R&D upfront in some obscene cost-plus contract, what, exactly, makes the actual production of the plane cost anything over $20M after the R&D costs have been retired?

    Machining titanium is damn difficult, of course, but as mentioned above, such work is not new. I’m not saying that they should cost the same as a Tesla sedan, but how does it even cost more than $20M. How is that possible? What are the costs that add up to $21M+?

    Because here’s the biggy: let’s say that speed and maneuverability aren’t the only things improved in a 5G plane over a 4G. (By definition they can’t be, actually). If you make decisions that decrease up front cost, decrease maintenance costs, and increase up-time, you’ll probably not be able to shave every single possible pound of weight. Your engine might deliver 90%-95% of the power of your tricked-out-but-impossibly-expensive fantasy. With the failure to save every possible pound no matter how expensive, your dry-thrust-to-weight ratio is only 80% of what it might have been (Maybe 85-90% on burner, since that’s a low-tech option for thrust boosting and will probably increase thrust just as much as on your fantasy plane).

    With air resistance increasing with the cube of apparent wind speed, you’re still talking 93-94% of top speed on dry thrust and 94-96% on burner.

    In combat, ideally you’d like every edge. But if your fantasy plane costs 5x your 94% plane, then you can go into combat 1-on-3 at 100% or you can go into combat 5-on-3 at 94%.

    Jordan was pretty amazing, but in a full court game, Jordan 1-on-3 can’t compete against any other 3 NBA starters. If you take Jordan’s bulls and trade him for Penny Hardaway, the newly Jordan-free Bulls will still crush any NBA team that puts only 3 players on the court, even if they’re all starters, heck even if they’re all-stars.

    What’s the flaw in this thinking? What is advantageous about developing a plane that can’t be purchased or (once purchased) flown? And exactly what the fuck is it that makes a plane cost more than $20M even after R&D costs have been retired?

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the per-plane cost still jumped 33%!

    Math check: Say you buy 150 wadgets for $150: $1 each.

    Then you get the same scam pulled on you: price stays the same, but you only receive 100 wadgets: $1.50 each.

    Your per-wadget cost has jumped 50%.

  5. says

    The British will probably be stuck buying the F35. Their new aircraft carriers, the just commissioned HMS Queen Elizabeth, and the currently under construction HMS Prince of Wales, are designed to operate STOVL combat aircraft, and the only such aircraft available is the F35B. They were going to change the design to use the catapult launched F35C until they found out installing a catapult and the barrier landing system the F35C needs would cost double the price expected, and delay the ships’ entry into service by years. In theory a catapult system could be installed in the future, but of course that would require a multi year refit of the ships and cost a bunch of money. So it’s buy F35Bs or see the two ships used as overpriced helicopter carriers.

    I suspect the RCAF will get its way and Canada will end up buying the F35 to replace the current CF18 fleet. The competing fighters, all proven designs that are generally cheaper, aren’t cool enough for the flyboys.

  6. says

    Nowt but a big pipeline for pumping a sovereign nation’s taxpayer dollars directly into the big corporations’ tanks. The politicians that facilitate the fire hose get to play with a few bucketfuls for themselves.

  7. komarov says

    Now, today, the F-35 with its new Block 3F software build is capable of using all the weapons it was designed to use (including great big old school bombs that negate its stealth)

    Are those brackets meant as a criticism? Because I’d see it as a reasonable thing to include “non-stealh” weaponry just to remain flexible. I’m sure an airbase commander would be very embarrassed if they couldn’t bomb a target because they only have F-35s ready and they aren’t backwards-compatible with Ye Olde Clusterbomb that’s needed to properly obliterate it. All of this could very well be an everyday issue for the USAF, for all I know. Insurgent training camps (elementary schools), rebel medical facilities (MSF hospitals) and enemy ammunition dumps (Red Cross supplies) can crop up anywhere, any time.

    Re: chigau (#1):

    How about capillary action? Water moves through thin capillaries due to surface tension. This is much the same, only the dimensions change. Once the procurement pipeline has been wetted with a little cash it keeps sucking more and more until the reservoir is empty (which will never be allowed to happen).

    Re: Crip Dyke (#3):

    I don’t see any flaws in your thinking. The cost per unit vs. effectiveness per unit is doomed to trip up any development curve sooner or later because of diminishing returns. If you’ve been working on X, e.g. fighter planes, for long enough you won’t be able to improve it by much because everything that can be done has been done. All you get is small increments at exorbitant prices. And as you’ve shown, the improvements may be mathematically significant, but not tactically.

    Some computer games actually demonstrate this wonderfully. Initially games like the classic Master of Orion start out as a technological arms race: Whoever builds better (space)craft will likely win all the battles. But there comes a point where even “primitive” weapons are so devestating they can tear the most advanced ships to shreds in an instant. At that point any defensive systems become useless and all that matters is raw firepower. The winning strategy then is to build “glass cannons”, units that are easily destroyed but can decimate fleets if they get the chance and are cheap to replace. Everything turns into a numbers game.

    In reality we face the same issues, hence we build cruise missiles and unmanned drones to inflict disproportionate damage at relatively low cost. If it was still viable to build pricey (and durable) superfighters to kill each other I’m sure we’d see a lot more projects headed in that direction.

  8. says

    [Administrivia]
    I had a really long day yesterday, and have a catch-up day today, so I’ll be unable to comment or post until tonight. I’ve just let a lot of work get backed up while pursuing mill-moving projects and such.

  9. bmiller says

    My (late) New Years Resolution for the Intertubes: Quit reading your columns, Marcus, because you make me very, very depressed. And nothing will ever change until the whole rotten edifice collapses due to the social and economic dry rot.

    :)

  10. says

    bmiller@#9:
    Quit reading your columns, Marcus, because you make me very, very depressed.

    I plan to switch all my F-35 content to kitten pictures, after the F-35 is fully combat capable and deployed and the network sharing stuff all works and is secure. So, real soon!

    Sorry my postings are depressing. It’s worse in my head.

  11. says

    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden@#3:
    Very little in the airframe is going to be new – stealth was new for a while, but we’ve gone beyond 4G now, supposedly.

    Yes, and no.

    From what I understand of airframe design, you’re right that the idea of “airframe” is understood, but the hard part is combining the gigantic amount of details plus making the huge number of trade-offs to get a workable plane. A lot of that is done with CAD, naturally, but there’s still the hard part, which is deciding what is the best thing for where and when. If I understand how this works, that’s what you’re paying for and it’s a constant aspect of what makes a great plane versus a dud. Stuff like stealth is done with supersecret very expensive software that calculates the smallest radar return (in a set of circumstances) and then the trick is: can you build that plane?

    So, for example, there’s the “jump jet” version which doesn’t appear to work very well. Because, duh. It’s got this great big vertical fan system that can be exposed to produce vertical thrust, but think what that does to the engine design, the engine exhaust design, and all the control components and other airplaney stuff that would otherwise go where someone just said “let’s put a great big vertical hole through the airplane!” Re-routing around that, figuring out how to make the resulting airframe strong enough so it won’t come apart if the pilot yanks back on the stick, etc. I don’t think that software is capable of making those decisions – what it does is gives the plane designer an idea what the consequences of those decisions might be on a real plane. Then, you pick. This is one of the reasons that plane designs keep getting more expensive: they are insanely more complex. For one thing, all the control surfaces are now fly-by-wire, which means actuators and controllers and a computer that is fast enough to translate the plane’s flight parameters into what the pilot appears to be trying to do. As a programmer, my instinct would be to think “there ought to be Plane1.0 software that can run on all the platforms by just tweaking the presets” except every plane is really different and the consequences of changing those presets is unknown – and unknown from version of the same plane to the next. That’s what the “Block A” and “Block B” stuff is – they try to make it sound like it’s the same plane but the difference is more significant than the differences between Windows 7 and Windows 10. That’s how a friend of mine who understands this stuff explained it to me years ago, anyhow.

    What makes a plane like an F-16 a classic is that the designers came up with just the right balance of stuff to make it a fantastic platform for a pretty wide set of purposes. In the case of the F-16 the designers actually: a) were pilots b) talked to pilots c) listened to pilots. The F-35 has some problems in that regard because the design is heavily influenced by politics as well; mostly inter-service rivalry. Part of the irony of the F-35 is that the Air Force really wants to kill of the Marine Corps’ aviation ability, so part of the plane’s purpose was to be a general-purpose jet that could work for all the services that wanted a new generation jet. By trying to please everyone…

    The engines can be made relatively easy to maintain: we have commercial engines that put out huge amounts of thrust that fly regular schedules with relatively little downtime.

    Back to constraints: they need to get way more power out of the plane’s one engine than the plane’s engine typically would produce – because the F-35 requirement (which was bullshit) was to cruise at supersonic speeds – so you need a plane that is lighter than it can be, with an engine more powerful than exists. What do you do if you’re the F-35 program? 1) lie about supercruise 2) eat into the maintenance schedule of the engine by running it harder. That makes the engine both more expensive and less reliable. These are constraints that a commercial aircraft has, as well, but they’re more severe in a smaller platform that is expected to be more maneuverable, faster, and deadly and stealthy and then you’ve got to think about weapons systems…

    One of the big problems the commercial guys don’t have to worry about is weapons. On a stealth plane, that means pop-up stealth missile launchers. But then some dipshit who thinks that the US Air Force is still fighting over the Meuse in WWI says “it needs a gun, too.” I shit you not. Aircraft guns are huge, heavy, and dangerous for the plane – also, stupid on a stealth plane – if you put a gun in the airframe you need an airframe capable of withstanding the kick. Etc. (I read a bunch about this in an interesting book called The Yard which is about designing Arleigh Burke aegis missile destroyers. Commercial ships do not have to handle the case of having tons of missiles leave a ship, quite quickly, which makes big changes to the balance of the ship, and also pushes hard against it while the missile is going – naturally, you handle that by reinforcing the ship which, oops, makes it heavier and slower.)

    Computer control systems might need to be custom created, but at least some functions can be handled by off-the-shelf products, and manufacturing custom circuit boards isn’t that big a deal today anyway. You can get them packaged in $2k audio equipment, so the board itself, after amortizing R&D, costs for shipping, retail markup, blah, blah, has to be less than $500 even if its the single most expensive thing in the unit (and that doesn’t seem especially likely).

    A lot of it is off the shelf stuff – the wires and microprocessors, etc. Again, if I understand it correctly, the ugly bit is the part where the software that keeps the plane (some of which are inherently unstable at some speeds) from falling out of the sky when the missile bay doors open and suddenly one side of the plane is 1 ton lighter. The basic software is a sort of understood problem but it’s back to figuring out tradeoffs.

    So, assuming that the military pays the exorbitant costs of R&D upfront in some obscene cost-plus contract, what, exactly, makes the actual production of the plane cost anything over $20M after the R&D costs have been retired?

    If I understand it correctly, the exorbitant costs of R&D are what drive the bulk of the plane’s cost. The actual plane is still damn expensive because pretty much everything about it is edge engineering and all the manufacturing has to be perfect – but, you’re right – once they have it built, they ought to be able to just start knocking them out. Or so you’d think. Except that what happens is the Air Force insists that such and such be changed, and then all the assumptions need to be re-examined.

    I talked once with a programmer who’d worked on the control software for the AGM-65 (Maverick) missile. This was the state of the art thing in the late 1980s and it was the primary long-distance tank-killer on the A-10 Warthog. He told me that the missile parameters kept changing. And they were expected to produce a wire-frame graphic of what the missile’s “eye” saw, so the pilot could control the targeting. While flying a combat jet. I asked him how the user interface design for something like that happens and he said “lots of meetings.” And as soon as the plane starts flying there are years of tweaks.

    Because here’s the biggy: let’s say that speed and maneuverability aren’t the only things improved in a 5G plane over a 4G. (By definition they can’t be, actually).

    Bingo! You just pointed out the big interesting thing about this stuff: the real problem is a strategic one. The 5G ‘difference’ is the “fusion sensor network” (which: doesn’t work in the F-35 yet) which supposedly will integrate intelligence between stealthy aircraft. That’s actually a really interesting problem – how do your planes talk to eachother while stealthy? So the 5G doctrine includes AWACS planes as part of the battle-scape. I.e.: an F-35 is much much less of a plane if there is no AWACS around to tell it where the stealthy enemy are.

    These strategic advantages can be fairly easily nullified. As I pointed out in my “a matter of range” piece, the fact that the F-35 is a gas-guzzler means that the US has to bring refuelling aircraft closer to the battle area, which means it doesn’t matter how good your F-35 is if your flying tanker (which is not stealthy at all!) is lunchmeat for a long-range radar-homing missile. [stderr].

    Another way stealthy 5G aircraft might be defeated is with battlefield fusion software on the defense side: what if someone has passive infrared sensors that detect stealthy F-35s that still make big heat-plumes when they are inbound for a strike, and forward that information to other aircraft, and get the anti-aircraft missiles ready to take infrared-homing rear-shots on the F-35s when they have to turn around and fly back for fuel.

    The F-35 concept seems to me to be heavily based on the idea that it’s mostly going to be fighting vastly inferior aircraft with inferior command/control. Which goes back to your question: how good does a plane need to be? The mainstay of the US air bombing program is a plane from the 1960s and a couple planes from the 1980s. And they do just fine against everything they go up against. There are some threats that could be raised against them (the Chinese and the Russians, assuming we don’t go to war with the Swedish or French) but for those kind of threats: there’s always diplomacy. The countries that could give the US’ 1980s air assets a run for their money are all nuclear-armed states, so the US has to be pretty cautious about not just assuming it’s going to dogfight with them.

    In combat, ideally you’d like every edge. But if your fantasy plane costs 5x your 94% plane, then you can go into combat 1-on-3 at 100% or you can go into combat 5-on-3 at 94%.

    Exactly.

    The strategy you outline there? That’s what the Chinese are doing. (They are also building impressive area denial weapons – i.e.: long-range radar-homing missiles that can cut the fuel lifeline of the F-35, and which can hit naval vessels from thousands of miles away in a gigantic missile-swarm)

    What is advantageous about developing a plane that can’t be purchased or (once purchased) flown? And exactly what the fuck is it that makes a plane cost more than $20M even after R&D costs have been retired?

    Lockheed Martin owns congress.

  12. says

    chigau@#1:
    It’s like some surreal perpetual motion machine of spending.
    or is it a feedback loop?

    Chuck Spinney, one of the lead minds behind the F-16 program, refers to it as “a self-licking ice cream cone.”

  13. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#4:
    Math check: Say you buy 150 wadgets for $150: $1 each.
    Then you get the same scam pulled on you: price stays the same, but you only receive 100 wadgets: $1.50 each.

    The Air Force is getting 33% fewer wadgets for the same price.

    They gave the figure as a percentage because, uh, reasons. Actually, it is pretty hard to tell how many F-35s anyone plans to buy. In some places they say around 5,000 and in others its around 2,000. That reflects the various nations that have said they’d buy them and actually might, and the others that have said they’ll buy them and probably won’t.

    Greece was saying it was going to buy 15-20 F-35s. That’ll help their economy a whole lot. Turkey was saying 100 F-35s. Are we still allies of Turkey? What if the Turks kill American troops at Manbij – will they still buy F-35s?

    Then there are the Brits, Canadians, and Australians – good lapdogs, mostly. They’re going to buy some, except the Canadians are basically pointing out what Crip Dyke did@#3 – they aren’t going to get into any air wars with top-notch powers without the US there to do the F-35ing so maybe they can get away with F-18s. When the Canadians say that, Northrop Grumman has the congressmen they own have a conniption.

  14. says

    timgueguen@#5:
    So it’s buy F35Bs or see the two ships used as overpriced helicopter carriers.

    Yup. I hope the Royal Navy likes their helicopters.

    The F-35Bs are really not very good and they have a bad habit of burning the deck when they try to land. Basically, it’s something that nobody really wants to do, except in a demo. That’s a pretty good example, right there, of F-35 Hell: you plan to buy them, design your navy around them, and then find out that you’ll need to armor the deck of your aircraft carrier if you want it to survive its aviation wing’s take-offs.

    My bet is that they’re going to lose a bunch of the F-35Bs and mothball the rest.

  15. says

    komarov@#7:
    Are those brackets meant as a criticism? Because I’d see it as a reasonable thing to include “non-stealh” weaponry just to remain flexible. I’m sure an airbase commander would be very embarrassed if they couldn’t bomb a target because they only have F-35s ready and they aren’t backwards-compatible with Ye Olde Clusterbomb that’s needed to properly obliterate it.

    It’s not exactly a criticism. But it makes the whole F-35 thing a matter of “what’s the point?” when you consider that the stealth is one of the key selling-points of the plane. If you’re just hauling great big loads of bombs, that’s what a B-52 is for. Because, speaking of trade-offs, the B-52 is a hell of a good collection of trade-offs. If the Pentagon had any brains they’d build more B-52s (except if they tried they’d cost $1bn each!) and more A-10s and build a sensor-fusion version of the F-16 that could coordinate with F-22s (which are moderately stealthy).

    I think I posted a chart a while back that showed that most US air sorties are flown by A-10s, F-16s, and B-52s. I don’t remember where I saw that, though.

    Here’s another fun thing: the US military is doing to itself what the Royal Navy did – painting itself into a corner. The Royal Navy is basically nonexistent because they’re building new ships to carry aircraft that don’t exist yet (which invites compatibility disaster like the melting deck problem) The US Navy decided, when the F-35 was coming along “real soon now” to stop buying more parts for its inventory of F-18s. Now, because they don’t have replacement parts for the F-18s, something like 70% of the Navy’s F-18s are unflyable. [cnn]
    In computing we called this the “Sinclair Effect” – Sinclair had a pretty good computer that sold OK but they pre-announced an amazing new computer “coming real soon now” and everyone stopped buying Sinclairs because they were waiting for the new one. Of course, the new one was delayed a bit and the company ran out of oxygen before they could get the new computer out the door. Boom.

  16. says

    Initially games like the classic Master of Orion start out as a technological arms race: Whoever builds better (space)craft will likely win all the battles.

    That game ate years of my life.

  17. dangerousbeans says

    Australia will still buy them. the current arseholes are too racist to really try diplomacy with, or risk appearing weak to, any of our neighbours. so they will keep being close allies of the US, and part of that will be having to buy the F35s. Lockheed will probably throw some jobs our way, in exchange for a tax write-off, and even more money will be wasted.

  18. says

    chigau@#16:
    How many disposable drones can one buy for the price of a FBXむ35^-1?

    All of the drones!

    But the real question is more like: “the F-35 has a gigantic logistics train and there are lots of commercial satellites. So, you see someone deploying F-35s and you fire a ton of cruise missiles at the airbase from 1,000 miles away.


    F-22s parked in the open at Al Dhafra in 2013. One cruise missile and you’ve blown up the Gross National Product of some EU country. [aviationist]

    All of this stuff has to be considered under the umbrella of a winning/winnable strategy.

    The Vietcong were particularly un-stupid about that – they shelled American planes at Bien Hoa and destroyed 5 B-52s (more B-52s than anyone has destroyed, except the US Air Force) they shelled Da Nang and destroyed 11 aircraft and killed and wounded over 100 Americans (mostly injured by American munitions dump explosion) – they even sunk an American aircraft carrier that was docked. Their strategy was to make it untenably expensive for the US to be in Vietnam, which worked. The US fell back to doing what it always does when it can’t win a fight: bombing the crap out of people from a safe distance.

    A modern 4GW expert would see US F-35s as droolicious sitting ducks worthy of a commando raid. The Vietcong attack on Da Nang was a bunch of WWII-era rockets – katyushas, basically. Talk about a cost-effective maneuver!

  19. chigau (違う) says

    Marcus
    I know you like to post those gooogle-earth images but how can you be sure …?
    that They know that you think that the satellite images are really real and

  20. says

    I plan to switch all my F-35 content to kitten pictures, after the F-35 is fully combat capable and deployed and the network sharing stuff all works and is secure. So, real soon!

    Yep, real soon! I don’t have even the slightest doubts about this happening real soon.

    In the meantime, while we are all patiently waiting for the promised kitten pictures, in order to keep us all cheered up and happy, I can offer as placeholders some photos of cute puppies. Why don’t we start with https://img00.deviantart.net/6c6b/i/2018/028/e/b/fluffy_puppy_by_avestra-dc1f9xb.jpg for today. This little one is a four months old Pomeranian boy photographed in my photo studio/living room.

    Now, I know that we are going to get the promised kitten pictures real soon, so it won’t be necessary anyway, but still, just in case: photographing puppies is one of my sources of income, which is why I have whole hard drives filled with photos of cute puppies. I can keep up a steady supply of puppy photos for as long as it takes. Isn’t it great to be safe and have reserves? Of course, I’m completely confident that it won’t be necessary (after all, F-35s will be deployed real soon), but still, it’s nice to be safe. Just in case.

    Aren’t we all happy and smiling now? Stay tuned for more placeholder puppies! Cute and fluffy and totally adorable!

    /sarcasm tag

  21. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#21:
    I can offer as placeholders some photos of cute puppies. Why don’t we start with https://img00.deviantart.net/6c6b/i/2018/028/e/b/fluffy_puppy_by_avestra-dc1f9xb.jpg for today. This little one is a four months old Pomeranian boy photographed in my photo studio/living room.

    That’s 5th generation cuteness!
    I squee’d a bit.

    Think how I will squee when the F-35 program succeeds.

    By the way, I haven’t mentioned it yet but I wonder how they are securing the communications for the information sharing/fusion network. Remember: NATO’s battlefield comms are effectively in the clear because none of the members or services wanted NSA crypto gear for the comms. As recently as a few years ago, if you had the right software and a software-defined radio, you could listen in on the predator drones (the Air Force ones. CIA appears to have just gone and added crypto to theirs because fuck the NSA, that’s why) You’d need fancier gear to be able to tell one of the airborne tankers “I am a missile coming at you!” and watch it run away, leaving its contingent of F-35s to refuel by face-planting in the dirt.

  22. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    BTW, Marcus:

    I always appreciate your replies. Although I feel compelled to study the military to a certain extent, since it takes the largest share of my US taxes after social security and also because it kills people in my name, I just don’t have the patience or the interest to study the issues to the depth you’ve reached. Every time you talk about my military, I learn something. Usually a lot of things.

  23. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Speaking of,

    A modern 4GW expert

    is referencing 4th Generation Warfare, a set of operational concepts that integrate details of modern capabilities (e.g. “smart weapons”) with strategic and tactical ideas appropriate to a “battlefield” with no clear “front” defining the location of fighting or limiting the mobility of troops and weapons, is that right?

    And if I remember correctly, it’s also supposed to take into more explicit account psychological factors that can possibly heighten (or lessen) the effectiveness of any particular strike in degrading enemy capability (by cutting down morale/”willingness to fight” as well as other factors, like creating divisions between a military opponent and non-combatants living in the area who, without actually fighting, can make it easier or harder for a military opponent to access food or resupply other important resources).

    Am I off base?

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