The F-35 Lightning II is supposed to be the crown jewel of the US airborne fleet. Each of these next-generation fighter jets costs more than $80 million, even before taking into account costs such as maintenance. According to manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the F-35 “is more than a combat aircraft, it is a powerful force multiplier”. And now one of them has potentially crashed into a field in South Carolina.
That’s about average for the F-35. Since its launch in the early 1990s, a multitude of disasters, setbacks and cost overruns have made the F-35 the subject of massive ridicule outside the Pentagon. For all its flaws, and despite being the most expensive weapons system ever developed, there is no risk that the program will be abandoned any time soon. And honestly, that makes the F-35 the greatest tangible metaphor for American military spending that has ever existed.
For all its flaws, and despite being the most expensive weapons system ever developed, there is no risk that the program will be abandoned any time soon.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about the lost plane, but we do know that it was part of a 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing training squadron, based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. At one point during a flight Sunday afternoon, the pilot ejected while the fighter jet’s autopilot was still on. Joint Base Charleston, in the funniest development possible, posted a plea for help from the public on Facebook, asking for help in finding the stray plane as if it were a dog that ran away. was away from its owner. The base even included a telephone number that the public could call in case of sightings.
What took so long to find the plane? Well, that’s a great question that’s unfortunately difficult to answer easily at the moment. For one thing, the thing is designed not to easily show up on radar, although that might be less important if it’s currently a smoking heap on the ground. It was also reported that the plane’s transponder was not working properly, which NBC News could not confirm.
What was the “incident” that caused the pilot to eject? No idea, but the list of possibilities is long. The plane isn’t exactly the most reliable in general. The probable accident in the Carolinas is the ninth accident overall since the plane entered service and has been grounded several times for reasons ranging from “failure to provide oxygen to pilots” to “it is allergic to its namesake. Other issues include a variant featuring machine guns that cannot fire directly and the Pentagon having to limit the length of time the planes can fly at maximum speed.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Lockheed Martin’s sales pitch for the plane seems straight out of the ’90s: a fighter jet that comes in several extreme versions, each designed for a different fighting style and equipped with the most advanced stealth technology. The three variants – for the Air Force, Marines and Navy – have distinct missions but feature interchangeable parts. Only a fool would refuse to invest in what is essentially three planes in one.
This dream doesn’t exactly live up to reality. Only about 20 percent of the models’ parts overlap, and a lack of replacement parts was a major factor in the plane’s problems, according to the Government Accountability Office. Similarly, earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office reported that only between 54 and 58 percent of F-35 variants in the military’s possession were available in 2022. The numbers are worse for “total mission availability.” , which means that the aircraft is both in the possession of a squadron and can fulfill all of its missions. The F-35 A, used by the Air Force, accounted for just over 40%; the F-35 B and C, deployed by the Marines and Navy, respectively, were closer to 20 percent.
As for the overall trajectory of military spending, unlike the F-35, it has been increasing steadily for years.
Even the most pro-defense industry members of Congress realized that this plane might not really be any good. Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, likened spending on the F-35 to wasting money in a “rat hole.” But that hasn’t stemmed the flow of money flowing into the F-35. Earlier this year, the Defense Department signed a $30 billion contract with Lockheed, purchasing 398 additional aircraft for the United States and its NATO allies. In a perfect real-world example of the sunk cost fallacy, “there is no scenario where we would abandon it at this point,” Smith said.
As for the overall trajectory of military spending, unlike the F-35, it has been increasing steadily for years. The House is preparing to vote on this year’s defense appropriations bill, which will allocate $826 billion for the next fiscal year. With that kind of money being spent, it’s no wonder that the idea of spending around $7 million “per tail” per year just to keep these things flying seems like mere coinage.
So, yes, in many ways the disappearance of the F-35 over South Carolina is hilarious. (And perhaps a little vindication from former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly suggested that the plane was literally impossible to see with the naked eye.) But considering what he says about the way those in power have chosen to spend taxpayers’ money – well, that makes me want to trigger their ejection seats.