Does the Pentagon Still Know How to Build Airplanes?

Here is today’s news in military aviation. First, the F-22:

Some of the nation’s top aviators are refusing to fly the radar-evading F-22 Raptor, a fighter jet with ongoing problems with the oxygen systems that have plagued the fleet for four years. At the risk of significant reprimand — or even discharge from the Air Force — fighter pilots are turning down the opportunity to climb into the cockpit of the F-22, the world’s most expensive fighter jet.

And here’s Winslow Wheeler on the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink design that is the F-35:

This grotesquely unpromising plan has already resulted in multitudes of problems — and 80 percent of the flight testing remains. A virtual flying piano, the F-35 lacks the F-16’s agility in the air-to-air mode and the F-15E’s range and payload in the bombing mode, and it can’t even begin to compare to the A-10 at low-altitude close air support for troops engaged in combat. Worse yet, it won’t be able to get into the air as often to perform any mission — or just as importantly, to train pilots — because its complexity prolongs maintenance and limits availability.

….The bottom line: The F-35 is not the wonder its advocates claim. It is a gigantic performance disappointment, and in some respects a step backward. The problems, integral to the design, cannot be fixed without starting from a clean sheet of paper.

It’s just a coincidence that I read these two stories within five minutes of each other, and neither of them says anything new, really. We’ve known this stuff for years. But it does make you wonder why we seem to have lost the ability to build a next generation fighter that works well at a reasonable cost. Have we reached some inherent plateau of complexity that we’re not currently able to surpass? Have the smartest engineers all decamped to Silicon Valley? Or what? These are hardly the first Pentagon programs to sink under their own weight, but they’re certainly among the longest-lasting and highest-profile failures ever. I wonder what’s really going on here.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.