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posted by janrinok on Monday June 02 2014, @11:36AM   Printer-friendly
from the buddy-can-you-spare-me-a-dime? dept.

The US military's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft is proving to be a pain in the neck in more ways than one. Not only did the Pentagon spend almost $400 billion to buy 2,400 aircraft - about twice as much as it cost to put a man on the moon - the F-35 program is 7 years behind schedule and $163 billion over budget. This at a time when cuts in the defense budget are forcing the Pentagon to shrink the size of the military. CBS 60 Minutes took a closer look at the troubled fighter plane a few months back, but their rebroadcast on Sunday evening seems like as good a reason as any to revisit one of the biggest ongoing budget debacles in U.S. military memory. David Martin gets an inside look at what makes the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter the most expensive weapons system in history.

 
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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by bradley13 on Monday June 02 2014, @12:44PM

    by bradley13 (3053) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 02 2014, @12:44PM (#50179) Homepage Journal

    Wow, those are some budget cuts they have to live with. It appears that the main reduction is in the money thrown into Iraq and Afghanistan (highest 2008-2010). Overall military spending remains at or near historical highs [wikipedia.org].

    Why is the F-35 such a mess? For the same reasons that every major military procurement program is a mess: Politics, regulations and bureaucracy. The Air Force cannot just go buy a fighter aircraft - the appropriation bill is reviewed in detail by Congress: not for correctness, but for distribution of spoils. The bill is only approved if major subcontracts have been issues in all relevant Congressional districts - regardless of whether or not this makes any sense.

    Worse, the bills can be (and often are) rehashed every year. Already ordered those parts? Sorry, factory X is now in the wrong district - we have a new committee member - you've got to find a way to give factory Y a piece of the action. Oh, you planned to order 100 planes next year? Nope, make it 50 - or maybe make it 200 - and who cares if that totally screws up production planning. Congress micromanages these programs, but not in any normal sense of effective management - it's purely a matter of politics and self-interest.

    Then, of course, we have the usual problems: crazy procurement regulations, revolving door contracting, and a huge federal bureaucracy.

    As a result, getting any new aircraft approved, funded, designed and produced is incredibly difficult. Hence, that aircraft must be multi-role (fighter, bomber and tactical support all-in-one) and able to last for decades. Because getting the next one through Congress will be even more difficult. Which makes for an impossible, and impossibly expensive aircraft. Which gives Congress even more possibilities for game-playing and corruption.

    Just for amusement, consider the progression of equivalent aircraft - just looking at the production costs:

    • 1965 - F4-D unit cost US$2.4 million (US$18 million today)
    • 1998 - F15-D unit cost US$30 million (US$43.5 million today)
    • 2014 - F35-C unit cost US$143 million (US$143 million today)

    Each of these was, for its day, a high-end, multi-role fighter that stretched the technology of the day. You can put more data points in, but the trend is clear: in constant dollars, the per-unit costs have increased exponentially.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02 2014, @01:16PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02 2014, @01:16PM (#50191)

    Extend that methodology to the rest of the gov and you can see why our budget is a complete mess.

    Was not paying attention anymore did they finally pass a budget like they are required to?

    I have been watch many older 60/70s shows. You can see little clips of newspapers or hear 'news summaries'. It is funny how people act like this sort of thing is new. It has been going on for a *very* long time. I have been also watching dragnet (good show btw) I tell my wife it is like listening to the internet argue.

    This is what kills me about people not wanting to axe part of the budget (except parts they dont like). We could easily loose 3/4ths of all parts and still have a well functioning gov. But the pork train is too large at this point. http://www.usdebtclock.org/ [usdebtclock.org]

    Politics, regulations and bureaucracy
    The last one I want to speak to. Take our standing army. They can not say how many boots they own. Something every single one of our soldiers must own. They can not say how many bullets they own. Something every single one of our soldiers needs to know how to use. They have a horrible procurement system. In many cases they overbuy then overbuy again because they simply did not know they had enough already.

    Gov spend and incorrect regulation has become a boat anchor on the American people.

    Also think about this http://www.usdebtclock.org/world-debt-clock.html [usdebtclock.org]
    Some of those countries do not have the crazy standing army we do and they have even worse debt problems. What could we do if we fixed our debt problems?! Think of the amazing infrastructure we could have?! We have a chance but it is fading.

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02 2014, @05:46PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02 2014, @05:46PM (#50323)

      Think of the amazing infrastructure we could have?!

      Obama floated that idea for the best place to spend the stimulus money, but Congress shot it down fast because, first, it was something that Obama wanted, and second, that would have mean a lot of money would have gone to construction companies, and a lot of them might be (gasp!) union (i.e., vote Democrat). Keep in mind that this was all done very soon after a major Interstate bridge collapsed and there was a lot of media attention on the crumbling and aged infrastructure, so if you can't get Congress to spend money after a fucking bridge collapses, what chance do you think you can get it to happen now?

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by RamiK on Monday June 02 2014, @01:30PM

    by RamiK (1813) on Monday June 02 2014, @01:30PM (#50195)

    You forgot to mention the real kicker of it all: They're all pointless in the age of UAVs. Manned aircrafts are as obsolete as the horsed carriage. They under-perform and out-cost in every conceivable measure.

    --
    compiling...
    • (Score: 2) by scruffybeard on Monday June 02 2014, @02:22PM

      by scruffybeard (533) on Monday June 02 2014, @02:22PM (#50219)

      If manned aircraft are so obsolete, why are airlines and shipping companies wasting so much money on pilots? While UAV's certainly have their advantages, even with a human pilot flying from virtual cockpit, I am not sure that they can be as responsive, and adapt to every situation.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Angry Jesus on Monday June 02 2014, @03:28PM

        by Angry Jesus (182) on Monday June 02 2014, @03:28PM (#50253)

        > If manned aircraft are so obsolete, why are airlines and shipping companies wasting so much money on pilots?

        Inertia. For example, the average age of the UPS fleet is 15.5 years. [airfleets.net]

        I don't have specific links handy, but as a regular reader of the risks digest [ncl.ac.uk] where they analyze nearly every fly-by-wire aircrash to death, the odds are against the pilots and in favor of the automation. One of the biggest reasons is that people are prone to error and they tend to do even worse in high stress situations.

        • (Score: 2) by scruffybeard on Monday June 02 2014, @05:12PM

          by scruffybeard (533) on Monday June 02 2014, @05:12PM (#50299)

          I am not sure that I believe that inertia is the only thing holding this back. It seems that we are reading about advances with automated automobiles frequently these days, but they are still prototypes with limited capabilities. I don't see the same advances for UAV's (I don't read much about this, so I could be missing something). The only production models I have seen are small light weight models with a small payload; a camera, and perhaps a limited supply of weapons for military models. I haven't seen anything on the scale of an F-16, or a 727 that would lead me to believe that conventional aircraft with pilots are anywhere close to being obsolete.

          Are UAV's safe? Definitely. Are they the future of commercial and military aviation? Probably. Are they going to replace the need for conventional aircraft in the next 10-20 years? I say no.

          • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Angry Jesus on Monday June 02 2014, @05:32PM

            by Angry Jesus (182) on Monday June 02 2014, @05:32PM (#50311)

            > Are they going to replace the need for conventional aircraft in the next 10-20 years? I say no.

            That's mostly because all of the planes in service today will still be in service 20 years down the line.

            Sure, it is a combination of factors. But inertia is the biggest one. There are a lot less airplanes in service than there are cars and they last a lot longer too which translates into slower change.

            > I don't see the same advances for UAV's (I don't read much about this, so I could be missing something). The only production models I have seen are small light weight models

            You'll note that there is also no such thing as a production autonomous car, even google's soon to be on the road bubblecars are still just testers. But the stuff that is production - auto-follow cruise control, automatic braking, stay-in-lane, etc all have equivalents on airplanes that have been in use for decades.

            As for test vehicles, here's one: http://www.baesystems.com/magazine/BAES_051920/look-no-hands [baesystems.com]

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02 2014, @11:11PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02 2014, @11:11PM (#50448)

        why are airlines[...]wasting so much money on pilots?

        ...like the one where the (fatigued) captain said "My aircraft" and the first officer refused to release his stick? [wikipedia.org]

        ...or the one where, even though his instruments were giving him readings that he knew were complete crap, the captain decided to take off anyway? [wikipedia.org]

        Good question.

        -- gewg_

    • (Score: 2) by tangomargarine on Monday June 02 2014, @02:33PM

      by tangomargarine (667) on Monday June 02 2014, @02:33PM (#50223)

      Until they jam you (for remote control) or the smart AI goes wrong somehow (for autonomous).

      What's that? That could never possibly happen? Riiiight.

      --
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    • (Score: 2) by tibman on Monday June 02 2014, @04:38PM

      by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 02 2014, @04:38PM (#50287)

      No UCAV has won in a fight against a manned fighter. Surveillance and striking (unknowing) ground targets seems to be the only thing UAVs are currently good at. If UAVs made manned planes pointless then i think Delta Airlines, UPS, and so on would be firing all their pilots right now.

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      • (Score: 2) by wantkitteh on Monday June 02 2014, @06:41PM

        by wantkitteh (3362) on Monday June 02 2014, @06:41PM (#50354) Homepage Journal

        "No UCAV has won in a fight against a manned fighter."

        Give it a few years. The economics of the research alone dictate that a lot of countries will be doing this right now, and doing it very quietly I might add. As soon as the price point is low enough and the logistics in place, drones will take over from humans for all missions that can be defined simply enough for a drone to be able to complete it with minimal remote human interaction.

        Establishing/maintaining air superiority is a prime example as it can be horrendously expensive in terms of equipment and lives lost. Drones working collaboratively with remote humans can designate and prosecute enemy aggressors while leaving the precious supply of human pilots free to pursue missions and targets that need complex on-the-spot human judgement.

        Of COURSE it's being worked on.

        • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday June 02 2014, @08:50PM

          by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 02 2014, @08:50PM (#50401)

          'free to pursue missions and targets that need complex on-the-spot human judgement."

          Like air superiority in a crowded airspace with rules of engagement that are so complex they make humans heads spin. And so we've gone full circle, back to air superiority is a job best done by humans...

          The problem to solve with air superiority is not how to make things go boom (thats what A2A missile do, or S2A missiles for that matter...) the problem is you've got four aircraft nearby, one is an american medivac chopper full of wounded with battle damage so its IFF is broken so it looks like an enemy although a human pilot would know better, another is an al jazeera news chopper headed right to the front lines like typical journalist idiots, the third chopper is an enemy troop chopper that keeps trying to lure you over a known surface to air emplacement so they can shoot you down opening a hole in defensive coverage so the enemy bombers orbiting at just outside your range can swoop in unopposed once you're shot down or at least otherwise engaged in a pointless fight, and the fourth aircraft is an Air Isreal 747 with a "special" carry on bag that contains IFF gear that makes it look like a bomber on the radar, but it isn't, its just a commercial passenger jet with a suicide traveler. So which of the four do you shoot down? All of them? None of them? Its like an AI Turing test for pilots, every day.

          Its pretty much like claiming land mines will replace the need for infantry in general and special forces in particular. Well, they're useful, sorta, some of the time, but oddly enough every other silver bullet that's ever been invented has turned out to not be a universal silver bullet, so ...

      • (Score: 1) by deimtee on Tuesday June 03 2014, @02:30AM

        by deimtee (3272) on Tuesday June 03 2014, @02:30AM (#50496) Journal

        Depends on how you define an unmanned arial vehicle. Surface to Air missiles have taken down plenty of manned planes.
        If you mean machine-gun equipped drones dog-fighting WW1 style, then yeah it isn't going to happen. Cool as it would be, it just wouldn't be as cost effective or efficient as missiles.

        --
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        • (Score: 2) by tibman on Tuesday June 03 2014, @01:35PM

          by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday June 03 2014, @01:35PM (#50621)

          hah, great point! I am also sure that missiles will continue to remain unmanned.

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    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02 2014, @06:22PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02 2014, @06:22PM (#50343)
      I was waiting for the drone fanboys to come along to remind us that air superiority and multirole attack aircraft are currently obsolete. Please, do supply a list of all the engagements where air superiority has been achieved through UCAVs alone. I won't hold my breath. But try again in maybe 25 years...
      • (Score: 1) by alioth on Tuesday June 03 2014, @09:16AM

        by alioth (3279) on Tuesday June 03 2014, @09:16AM (#50569)

        That war hasn't been fought, so of course there will be no statistics.

        But if for example a UAV costs a tenth of a manned fighter, you can just zergling rush your opponent. You don't have to expend resources picking up shot down pilots, and your opponent is not only losing aircraft but personnel too.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by SuggestiveLanguage on Monday June 02 2014, @05:29PM

    by SuggestiveLanguage (1313) on Monday June 02 2014, @05:29PM (#50307)

    We vote only for Congressmen who promise to protect local defense jobs, even at the expense of ourselves, every other taxpayer, our children and the effectiveness of our nation's defense.

  • (Score: 2) by JeanCroix on Monday June 02 2014, @06:18PM

    by JeanCroix (573) on Monday June 02 2014, @06:18PM (#50341)
    Excellent summary; I'm glad someone came along and spelled all that out. There's another major problem you neglected though - feature creep. Each year, particularly for the F-35, the Joint Program Office has been increasing requirements and spec - add this; change that; make it do just this one, no two, no three extra things; put in a newer widget here; etc. That's not a good idea to do a project that's already well past the design phase. So then everyone (Lockheed, Pratt, et. al.) have to go back and redesign things to meet the new, more difficult, changed spec. But what do you mean that's going to put them over budget and behind schedule? Outrage!
  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by edIII on Monday June 02 2014, @06:23PM

    by edIII (791) on Monday June 02 2014, @06:23PM (#50344)

    You also essentially explained the problems with our health care system.

    30% efficient, when the the top 10 in the world are above 80% IIRC. It's also heavily micromanaged by parasitic middlemen and unduly influenced by Big Pharma and suppliers.

    The medical community is forced to give expensive tests, not demanded by medicine, but demanded by insurance companies to justify costs and procedures. A doctor has to literally prove it every single time. Don't even get me started on the preventative component of medicine being completely absent in the US. Insurance companies won't spend a nickle if they don't have to, only to have to spend 100k later on.

    People love to get upset about the death panels, but I have personally painful experience with a very sick friend dying because the insurance won't pick up the costs of a procedure that absolutely needs to be done. While this is an anecdote, a neurosurgeon who is a friend of the family reviewed the medical history and tests and thinks it's outright criminal and fundamentally murderous that this insurance company is refusing a life saving procedure saying there not sure it's appropriate.

    So in much the same way, corrupt monied interests interfere with medicine and how it operates in the same insane manner as Congress effectively dictating the design of an aircraft and purposefully installing parasites throughout the entire ill advised project to pump up costs well beyond what is actually necessary. My friend lays dying so that a shareholder can purchase more coke and hookers for his weekend getaway on his yacht.

    It goes far beyond health care as well. The US is more infested with disease and parasites, literally and metaphorically, than any 3rd world hell hole we sneer at.

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