Hatchet Job on the Potomac: The Washington Post Fails Its Readers


2013-03-10 by Robbin Laird

I was spending my Sunday working on the last chapter of our book on shaping a 21st century Pacific strategy.  The F-35 among other systems figures prominently in how to build a 21st strategy, not simply funding a 20th century residue.

We have interviewed many of the key players in the Pacific, US and Allied.

The complete draft exists and we are going to rework towards publication.

I would like to quote you in my article on the F-35. Credit Bigstock

Then someone sent me a piece published in The Washington Post written by Rajiv Chandrasekaran that purports to be about the F-35 program.

I say purports simply because writing a piece a 21st century system with no regard to the challenges of 21st combat completely disqualifies the analysis.

This is not unique to this journalist unfortunately, but when you go out of your way to denigrate the USAF and the USMC and their judgements about the period of combat in front of us, that gets my dander up.

The entire thrust of the article is that there are so many stakeholders that this bailing wire program hangs on.

We learn that for some unknown reasons the USMC and the USAF, the most powerful fighting force the United States has, wants the plane and so do allies, but the allies only want it because apparently they have invested in the plane, although this really doesn’t apply to many partners who are in line to buy the plane.

One could ask why Israel and Japan who are on the front lines of today’s major state threats want the plane?

At no point are the capabilities of the plane, and its operation as a fleet considered or the enormous capabilities, which will come to the C5ISR enterprise from deploying the fleet.

We don’t worry about the PRC or Iran, or North Korea in this piece, because the only theme is the Inside the Beltway games of getting money.

So we learn that the Marines, who by the way are leading the transition at Eglin and Yuma, are counting on the plane, and we discover that the only reason the plane has a single engine is that the Marines are buying the plane!

The reporter states:  “The F-35 has features that make pilots drool. It is shaped to avoid detection by enemy radar. It can accelerate to supersonic speeds. One model can take off and land vertically. Onboard electronic sensors and computers provide a 360-degree view of the battlefield on flat-panel screens, allowing pilots to quickly identify targets and threats.”

But then we learn that these qualities are not the real truth which he has found; the real truth is that there is a “budgetary force field around the program.”

I am sure the Klingons would be impressed with this analysis, but how about asking yourself what the impact of a 360-degree view of the battlefield does for a joint or coalition force?

360-degree situational awareness and distributed decision-making (which the plane facilitates) are not a nice to have element to “drool for” but a core capability to fight effectively and survive in the 21st century.

Because that is what the military wants to do: to engage, survive and win.  It is not about posturing for some budgetary reason.

And here is a perennial favorite:  “Although it is the costliest weapons system in U.S. history.”  I love this one — if you project and ignore inflation and historical costs of other programs, you make this assertion.

The reality is that it has not HAPPENED and we shall see.  It reminds one of the bizarre projections of 1.5 trillion dollar program with decades of sustainment rolled in without doing the analysis of what the legacy fleet would have cost in the same period which is north 4 trillion dollars.

This reminds one of all the critical comments made in 1934 and 1935 when Boeing tried to get support for the Flying Fortress, the key asset which allowed the US to engage and punish the Nazis in World War II.

Congressional critics, journalists and many Army Air Corps personnel said the plane was too expensive, and too good for what we needed.  Thank GOD Boeing put their own money in the project and were supported by some far sighted and principled Army Air Corps officials, or history might have been different!

There is absolutely no discussion of the real capabilities of the planes which pilots and technicians can easily discuss if you want to ask.

Clearly, this reporter knows more than they do, although he is not going to fly in harms way as these courageous men and women are going to do.

Here is another gem. The fighter jet is being mass-produced and placed in the hands of military aviators such as Walsh, who are not test pilots.

It is hard to miss all of the pilots flying the plane, but I gues General Walsh does not count.  The plane is designed to be flown by pilots because it is the revolutionary cockpit with the fused sensors which is the revolution inherent in the aircraft, and because it is a software upgradeable aircraft it will evolve over time

One could go on and on, but that would paying to much of a complement to the hatchet job this reporter has done.

Breathtaking Arrogance

This aircraft reinforces the way Americans go to war. . . .We don’t want to win 51-49. We want to win 99 to nothing,” said Lt. Gen. Frank Gornec, the assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force. He said he is convinced the
F-35 “will become a superstar in the arsenal of the United States.”

Many independent defense analysts do not share that conviction. To them, the plane’s political engineering and buy-before-you-fly procurement mask deep problems with performance and affordability.

“It was a bait-and-switch operation; we were overpromised benefits and under-promised costs,” said Chuck Spinney, a former Pentagon analyst who gained widespread attention in the 1980s for issuing pointed warnings about
the military’s pursuit of unaffordable weapons. “But by the time you realize the numbers don’t add up, you can’t get out of the program.

Chuck Spinney versus Lt. General Gornec, that is a tough choice to determine who knows what he is talking about.

The USMC Might Have Some Idea What It is Doing

“It’s essential for us,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, the Corps’ deputy commandant for aviation. “We don’t have another option.”

Thus far, there has been little discussion within the Pentagon or on Capitol Hill about whether the Marines, which are organized to travel by sea and fight small wars, require such a sophisticated aircraft. Compared with the Air Force and Navy versions, the Marine variant has the most engineering challenges and the largest price tag. But the Marines, the smallest service, have long wielded disproportionate influence on the Hill and in the Pentagon.

What does General Schmidle know?  He is only a distinguished warrior.  

Ok let us take a look at combat operations, briefly, Libya, or exercises Bold Alligator 2012 or what is going on the Pacific.

The F-35B will change the entire sea-basing concept and fits in with several other fleet developments afoot. 

But we don’t care about any of this because the Marines are “good lobbyists”.

They are also great warriors, and I would point out to this reporter that makes them a hell of lot more of an expert on the future of combat, than a reporter who CAN NOT EVEN MENTION IT.