Look up in the sky! It is a bird or even superman — but not an F-35. The troubled new jet fighter scheduled to be deployed to Burlington International Airport in 2019 continued right in character — performing poorly.
“The Air Force attempted two alert launch procedures during the Mountain Home deployment, where multiple F-35A aircraft were preflighted and prepared for a rapid launch, but only one of the six aircraft was able to complete the alert launch sequence and successfully takeoff,” the Pentagon’s top weapons tester disclosed in written testimony to Congress on 26 April.
Under development for 15 years the F-35 program has set records burning through $400 billion of our tax dollars. Currently the cost per aircraft is estimated to be of $412 million. And after all that time and money, the results of the recent deployment test are probably the last thing supporters of deployment to Vermont –notably Senators Leahy and Sanders, Rep. Peter Welch, Gov. Shumlin, and Mayor Miro Weinberger — want to hear.
Glitches that required system and/or aircraft shutdown and restarts that prevented launches were blamed on “immature software.”
For now at least, the F-35 is a fully mature employment program for some defense contractors. Currently these aircraft at one base require 60-90 industry tech reps per squadron. And in Senate testimony just last week Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said the program needs about 2,600 people to oversee it at a cost of $70 million per year. One Senator said he had numbers indicating it was nearly 3,000 people and $300 million a year.
Now, seven years since its first flight hour, the F-35 has reached the 50,000 flight hours mark. Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35 Joint Program Executive Officer: “The next 50,000 hours will be achieved much quicker as we double the size of the F-35 fleet worldwide in the next three years alone.”
The 50,000 flight hours are comprised of two categories: System Development and Demonstration flights (SDD) test hours (12,050) and Operational flying hours (37,950). Therefore, the total for Operational flight hours is only 37,950 hours-about a quarter less than the total flight hours of 50,000.
When he was defending the safety of deployment to Vermont in 2013, Lt. Col. Chris Caputo said the new fighter would have 750,000 flight hours before it comes to Burlington in 2019. A lot more F-35’s will have to be flying and an awful lot of Operational flight time (700,000) will have to be logged in three years if the Vermont Air Guard is to receive a plane that meets that goal.
Another question for the brass hats — and the F-35 cheerleaders –how realistic (or affordable) is reaching that goal in three years considering all the “glitches” and “bugs” haunting the aircraft?
A GMD bonus fun-fact:
Lockheed Martin was the biggest federal contract in 2014, Lockheed’s Pentagon contracts alone are worth more than the federal government provides in grants to the state governments of North Dakota, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, Wyoming, Montana, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Idaho, and Alaska combined.