Taking a page from the 2006 self-help book The Secret, the United States Air Force believes saying good things about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will make them come true. In an eight-page For Official Use Only (FOUO) memo to its public affairs offices, the Air Force gives detailed instructions on how to say only nice things about the troubled weapons system.
The estimated price tag of the 14-year-old Joint Strike Fighter program now tops $1.5 trillion. The Air Force, a service that has trouble keeping track of the cost of its new weapons systems, is pushing the fighter as a weapon designed for the “entire battle space.” The problems with the fighter are mounting, well beyond the battle space.
A recent RAND corporation study found the fundamentals of the F-35 design to be “double inferior to Chinese and Russian designs.” Other comments from the RAND study include: “Inferior acceleration, inferior climb, inferior sustained turn capability. Also has lower top speed.” Earlier in 2015, the F-35 lost a dogfight to the F-16, a jet from the 1970s. If that wasn’t enough, the Air Force and Lockheed only just recently figured out what kept causing their engines to ignite on takeoff. Finally, the Air Force is taking a lot of flak (see what I did there?) from Congress and a community of military members who support the A-10 Thunderbolt II (aka the Warthog). In an effort to put billions toward the F-35, the Air Force is trying to forcefully retire the A-10’s close air support mission in favor of the new stealth fighter, even though the F-35’s gun won’t fire until 2019.
The Air Force Public Affairs Agency’s communications theme is “Lethal, Survivable, and Adaptive.” Lethal is a strange choice for an airframe whose weapons won’t be operational for another four years. Survivable is good to know if you’re piloting a plane whose engine is known to ignite. Adaptive is good for cost sharing with Coalition partners, because all of this stuff is really expensive.
It’s so expensive that in July of this year, the USAF released a 20-year strategic forecast titled “America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future,” which calls for an end to big-ticket programs like the F-35. That report says it’s no longer possible to build a strategy advantage with large, expensive programs that take years to complete. Yet Lockheed and the U.S. military hope to produce 2,400 of the F-35s over 20 years.
The public affairs memo coaches public affairs officers how to address other questions, like the fighter’s $400,000 helmet, the advanced technology the U.S. is sharing with 11 countries, or the fact that the F-35 is bad at long range power projection.
After addressing concerns about the F-35, the Air Force believes it will see “U.S. opinion leaders, the American public and international partners are reassured and have confidence in the capability and can articulate why the F-35 is required for national defense.”
Are you reassured yet, American public?