The Register reports, in shock, that British F-35s are going to have their engines serviced in Turkey.
It actually makes perfect sense, if you think for a few seconds about the implications of how the F-35 is built – they are staring you right in the face. The manufacturing and maintenance facilities for those engines are going to cost a large multiple more than the engines, themselves.
In spite of (coincidentally) the Turkish contractor leaking the CAD files for the F-35 (early version, not flyable) the Turks are still part of the NATO consortium that has parceled out the pork, making sure that everyone involved gets to throw contracting millions at their local preferred defense industrial complex members. So, sure, let’s have the engines made over in Turkey, the avionics done at Raytheon, the airframe at Northrup Grumman, etc. Part of the reason why the F-35 has been such a nightmare is system integration – they’re swapping around classified system engineering documents as fast as they can … uh, how do they move them? Secure file sharing, that sounds like another great boondoggle to implement. [reg]
Britain’s F-35B fighter jets currently cost around $123m each – and British officials are quite content that the only engine overhaul facility for the stealth aircraft’s engines is located in Turkey.
The House of Commons’ Defence Committee questioned British ministers, civil servants and senior officers on the F-35 purchase programme, revealing that Britain is still publicly committed to buying 138 F-35Bs.
Docherty-Hughes refused to be deterred. “The minister didn’t answer the question. Is it value for the UK taxpayer? Are we one step away from a disaster? This is unprecedented, it’s never happened before. It’s clearly the United States directing the MoD to put the engines in for overhaul in another country. Has this happened before?”
The problem is that the Brits would poop themselves (that is the technical term) when they saw the invoices for building a capability for repairing F-35 engines. One does not simply pop over to the car parts store to get components for what is doubtless a classified engine architecture, made using classified manufacturing processes, all very secret except that every defense/industrial complex in NATO is in on the manufacturing and therefore the entire aircraft.
There are two things worth remembering about this story. First is that a lot of the US defense/industrial complex F-35 cheerleaders are dismissive of the current crop of Chinese 5th generation jets, because the Chinese just don’t know how to make the kind of crazy insanely badass engines that power a 5th generation fighter… uh, oh. We taught them, what? The Turks leaked what? Second, as I mentioned last year, the decision to lighten the overweight F-35 architecture by making it a single-engine aircraft meant that to try to get close to being a high-speed performer, they did a bunch of performance-enhancing moves like using vibranium parts in the engine. I’m kidding about the vibranium, but the higher-performance design has a shorter service life and maintenance cycle than an older design. So the F-35 engines will:
- Cost more
- Not last as long
- Require more maintenance
- Need to somehow get to Turkey for repairs beyond basic maintenance
- (PS – cannot do extended supersonic flight which was part of the designed purpose of the aircraft)
- (PS – has nowhere near the fuel range the plane was originally intended to have)
It’s almost as if the US was thinking that it’d be great if all the other air forces in the world except the Russians and Chinese (who are apparently not stupid) would switch to flying aircraft for which the US controls the supply-lines. Imagine if Donald Trump is having a crisis of competence and gets pissed off at the Australians and tells the Turks to start slow-walking those Aussie engine repairs, “tell the Maitre D’ over there to put the Canadians in line ahead of them.”
Not only is the F-35 an overpriced short-legged hangar queen, its got a built-in supply chain vulnerability. I also have to wonder if the NSA will be having the Turkish intelligence folks serving up communications security exploits (or sensor fusion exploits!) because there is no better way to make your extremely expensive war-toy vulnerable than to let other people wrench on it. I assume that everyone who ever flies an F-35 is going to be flying it in “shh! Don’t touch it!” mode regarding its software, anyway. But, given the NSA’s self-chosen mission to pwn all the computers everywhere, I think the Brits, Aussies, and Canadians ought to be looking at this arrangement and thinking:
It is suspiciously difficult to get information about the recommended time between maintenance for an F-35. It can’t be worse than the F-22 because they don’t make numbers that small, anymore, but you can bet it’s bad. The scenario may look like: F-35 takes off in middle eastern combat zone, returns from mission, and oops it’s off to Turkey for an engine overhaul. Basically, the future British Air Force looks like a few planes that are flight-worthy, and a stream of parts and upgrades all of which represent billions being siphoned off to American defense contractors or their designated pork partners. Did I say “Suckers”?
God, look at the shitty canopy design of the F-35 compared to the F-16. “But that’s OK,” say F-35 proponents, “nothing will survive in the air in the presence of an F-35 long enough to even get behind one.” Really.