The US Marine Corps has once again suspended flight operations of their darling of aviation technology, the Lockheed F-35B Joint Strike fighter—at least over Air Station Yuma in Arizona where the air is dry, the beer is cold, and the brass can hide from prying photo journalists who haven’t been read the Riot Act yet.
After $400 billion (Make that a capital B) in program development costs that in fact stretch back to the early 1990s, one would think the borrowed money might justify a finished operational project.
Never mind the crumbling infrastructure, bridges, schools and of course questionable healthcare future generations will inherit—look at the really cool warplane they can hear about on the news.
This time, the “software” issues have grounded the machines while weary but professional technicians and scientists try to decipher just what is going on with the onboard computers, data links, and all those buttons, knobs and little blinking lights.
But things back in the early days were not so complicated. In fact, a successful and functioning Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) military jet was already flying; only it wasn’t an American creation, it was a Yakovlev Design Bureau Yak-141.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. It was the German high command in the formidable years of the second world war who proposed a VTOL aircraft. But the ballistic rocket program called the V2 was in full swing.
The former Soviet Union took up the quest in 1975 with the less than stellar early Yak- 38 “jump jet”.
But as development moved along, bells and whistles took precedent over fundamentals. (Sound familiar?) The plane's multifunctional display, although impressive, meant yet another computer and redundant power source. And a range of computer-generated sounds meant to alert the pilot was more of a distraction than anything else.
These very costly add-ons are only just finding their way into Russian hardware. Up to a few years ago, Russian designers were still using what we refer to as steam gauges (old dial instruments that were dated technology but worked reliably).
The Yak-141 looked like, performed like, and flew like the accumulation of American engineering "expertise" now seen in the F-35—only without all that high tech stuff; and seemingly without all those pesky glitches.
Was this a coincidence?
No, it was planned; as the Soviet Union collapsed, the Yak-141 project refinement stalled.
Back in 1991, Lockheed Martin partnered with Yakovlev and the X-35 was born. Money flowed freely, at least printed money did, as the Russian design teams learned the folly of Keynes Law. The law of diminishing returns for that was exactly what the now F-35 program was.
Now aside for the software, the upgraded maintenance schedule, and the ongoing close integration of parts and supply chains, the F-35 has another major setback, at least when aboard surface carrier ships where the US Navy and Marines will deploy from.
It seems those engines are too hot for the deck plates. While on land, they degrade the hard concrete.
Should they have quit while they were ahead?
Perhaps, but it's too late now. As US senators lobby for component parts to be made in their own states, ensuring "jobs" back home, more and more people become reliant upon the ever-growing trough of government graft.
And as more and more money flows in a torrent away from Main Street America, education, roads, clean water—the foundations of a healthy society—are rapidly becoming quaint axioms of a bygone era.