Boeing quietly unveiled the latest iteration of its troubled 737 Max aircraft on Nov. 22, 2019, even as the plane remains grounded globally after two deadly crashes.
At a low-key ceremony at its headquarters in Renton, Washington, attended mainly by employees, Boeing released the 737 Max 10, the largest version of the Max yet.
The Max 10 seats a maximum of 230 passengers, around 30 more than the Max 8, the aircraft model involved in the two crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.
(Photo by Oleg V. Belyakov)
Rather than the usual fanfare and excitement surrounding the launch of a new plane model, Boeing barely publicized the launch of the Max 10, sending only a brief press statement with a single picture of the aircraft.
It used the statement to try to focus on safety, as questions continue about the recertification of the 737 Max and its eventual return to service.
“This team’s relentless focus on safety and quality shows the commitment we have to our airline customers and every person who flies on a Boeing airplane,” the statement said.
It remains unclear when the 737 Max will be allowed to fly again as the Federal Aviation Administration continues to assess changes made to MCAS, the software on the Max that has been blamed for both crashes.
It is expected to return at some point in 2020, but many airlines which fly the plane have removed it from their flight schedules until at least March next year.
The unveiling of the Max 10 comes alongside continued fears from workers in the aviation industry over whether the Max will be safe once it returns to service.
Earlier in November 2019, the head of the union representing American Airlines cabin crew implored Boeing to involve flight attendants in the process of re-certifying the 737 Max, saying that some crew are literally begging not to fly on the plane when it returns to service.
Days before, pilots for Southwest Airlines accused Boeing of “arrogance, ignorance, and greed” over the Max.
The launch of the new jet came at the end of a week when airlines put their faith strongly in the Airbus A321 XLR, a rival to the Max 10.
Airlines announced orders worth around .7 billion for the A321 XLR during the Dubai Airshow last week, with 40 of the planes ordered at the show.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The V-22 Osprey has a spotty safety record, costs twice as much as originally advertised, and has a cost-per-flight-hour higher than a B-1B Lancer or F-22 Raptor when including acquisition, modification, and maintenance costs. So, why are all four Department of Defense branches of the military looking to fly the V-22 or something similar?
U.S. Marine Corps parachutists free fall from an MV-22 Osprey at 10,000 feet above the drop zone at Fort A.P. Hill, Va. on Jan. 17, 2000.
(U.S. Navy photo by Vernon Pugh)
First, let’s take a look at the Osprey’s weaknesses, because they are plentiful. The tilt-rotor aircraft is heavy, and keeping it aloft with two rotors requires a lot of lift, producing a lot of rotorwash. The rotorwash is so strong, in fact, that it’s injured personnel before, and it forces troops attempting to fast rope from the bird must do so at higher altitudes amid greater turbulence.
Which, yes, is scary and legitimately dangerous.
Meanwhile, the Osprey causes more wear and tear on the ships and air fields from which it operates. The large amount and high temperatures of its exhaust tears apart launch surfaces. And its own acquisition and maintenance costs are high.
So, not great, but worth bearing if the aircraft fills a particular role that you really need to fill.
U.S. Marines with India Company 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command conduct a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel exercise August 19, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Teagan Fredericks)
And the V-22 does indeed fill a unique role. Its ability to fly like a plane most of the time but then hover like a helicopter when needed is changing everything from combat search and rescue to special operations insertions to replenishment at sea.
See, fixed-wing aircraft, planes, can typically fly farther and faster while carrying heavier loads than their rotary-wing brethren. But, rotary-wing aircraft, helicopters, can land on nearly any patch of flat, firm ground or ship deck. Tilt-rotor aircraft like the V-22 can do both, even though it can’t do either quite as well.
It’s a jack-of-all-trades sort of deal. Except, in this case, “Jack of All Trades” is master of a few, too. Take combat search and rescue. It’s typically done with a helicopter because you need to be able to quickly land, grab the isolated personnel, and take off again, usually while far from a friendly airstrip. But the Osprey can do it at greater ranges and speeds than any helicopter.
Or take forward arming and refueling points, where the military sends personnel, fuel, and ammunition forward to allow helicopters to refuel and rearm closer to the fight. Setting these up requires that the military quickly moves thousands of pounds of fuel and ammo quickly, either by truck or aircraft.
Doing it with aircraft is faster, but requires a heavy lift aircraft that can land vertically or nearly so. Again, the V-22 can carry similar weight at much greater ranges than most other vertical lift aircraft. The Army’s CH-47F has a “useful load” of 24,000 pounds and a range of 200 nautical miles. The Osprey boasts a 428 nautical mile range while still carrying 20,000 pounds. And, it can ferry back and forth faster, cruising at 306 mph ground speed compared to the Chinook’s 180.
Air Force CV-22 in flight.
(U.S. Air Force)
Or look at Navy replenishment at sea, a job currently done by 27 C-2A Greyhounds, but the Navy is hoping to use 38 CMV-22Bs instead. When the CMV-22B uses rolling takeoffs and landings, it can carry over 57,000 pounds compared to the C-2A’s 49,000. And it can carry heavy loads further, lifting 6,000 pounds on a 1,100-nautical mile trip while the C-2A carries 800 pounds for 1,000-nautical miles.
So, why all the haters at places like War Is Boring? Well, the V-22 is very expensive. That ,000-per-flight-hour price tag makes the Air Force version that branch’s eighth most expensive plane. And getting the V-22 operationally superior to the C-2A required lots of expensive modifications and still doesn’t allow it to deliver supplies in a hover on most warships because of the hot exhaust mentioned above.
So, the Navy had to make expensive modifications to an expensive tilt-rotor aircraft so that it could do the job of a cheaper fixed-wing aircraft. But if the original, fixed-wing aircraft had gotten the upgrades instead, there’s a potential argument that it would’ve been made just as capable for much less.
Meanwhile, the V-22’s safety problems are often over-hyped, but there are issues. The C-2A has had only one major operational incident since 1973. The V-22 had three last year. This problem of cost vs. added capability comes up every time the V-22 is suggested for a new mission. It’s an expensive solution in every slot.
The Bell V-280 Valor is a proposed successor to the V-22.
(Manufacturer graphic, Bell Helicopters)
But when people on the opposite side make grand claims like, “Versatile V-22 Osprey Is The Most Successful New Combat System Since 9-11,” they aren’t exactly wrong. Despite all of the V-22’s problems, the Army is considering tilt-rotors for its next generation of vertical lift aircraft and the rest of the Department of Defense is already flying the V-22s. That’s because tilt-rotors offer capabilities that just can’t currently be achieved with other designs.
A manufacturer graphic showing the SB-1 Defiant, a proposed compound helicopter to replace the UH-60, picking up troops. The SB-1 Defiant is in competition with the V-280, a tilt-rotor successor to the V-22.
(Dylan Malysov, CC BY-SA 4.0)
So, while the troubled tilt-rotor has won over at least a few proponents in three of the DoD branches, it may fall short of garnering all four, especially if the Army decides that tilt-rotor acquisition and maintenance is too expensive.
Whatever America’s largest military branch chooses will likely set the tone for follow-on American purchases as well as the fleets of dozens of allies. So, Bell has to prove that one of the military’s most troubled and expensive aircraft is still the face of the future.
During the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814, Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and poet pulled into port on a mission to negotiate the release several POWs from British forces. Before a deal could be reached, the British started bombing the city of Baltimore, restricting Key’s access to the fort. Key witnessed the devastation of the battle and documented the events in a poem — which we know today as our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The song grew in popularity, often playing at public events and various celebrations throughout the nation.
Fast forward to 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered Key’s song to play during the each raising of the flag at the beginning of the day.
Soon after America entered WWI, Major League Baseball started to feature a variety patriotic rituals like pregame military drills.
During game one of the 1918 World Series, the players took their traditional seventh-inning stretch, and a band started to play the anthem. The song caused the Cubs and Red Sox to stand at attention and face the centerfield flag pole.
The crowd stood on their feet and sang along to the anthem — applauding afterward. Since the song had gotten such positive feedback, the band continued to play the tune during the next few games.
Once the series moved to Boston, the anthem was played at the beginning of the game under the Red Sox owner’s request. In March 1931, the patriotic song passed through congress, confirming it as America’s official national anthem.
President Herbert Hoover signed the document, and the tradition spread throughout the major sporting events. Now, it’s hard to imagine a baseball game without the national anthem!
Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott was only 19 when a civilian spy and contraband smuggler proposed a daring plan, asking for volunteers: A small group of men was to sneak across Confederate lines, steal a train, and then use it as a mobile base to destroy Confederate supply and communications lines while the Union Army advanced on Chattanooga.
It was for this raid that the Army would first award a newly authorized medal, the Medal of Honor. Jacob Parrott received the very first one.
The military and political situation in April, 1862, was bad for the Union. European capitals were considering recognizing the Confederacy as its own state, and the Democrats were putting together a campaign platform for the 1862 mid-terms that would turn them into a referendum on the war.
Meanwhile, many in the country thought that the Army was losing too many troops for too little ground.
It was against this backdrop that Union Gen. Ormsby Mitchel heard James J. Andrews’ proposal to ease Mitchel’s campaign against Chattanooga with a train raid. Mitchel approved the mission and Andrews slipped through Confederate lines with his volunteers on April 7, 1862.
An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the theft of the “General” locomotive by Andrews’ Raiders.
(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)
The men made their way to the rail station at Chattanooga and rode from there to Marietta, Georgia, a city in the northern part of the state. En route, two men were arrested. Another two overslept on the morning of April 12 and missed the move from Marietta to Big Shanty, a small depot.
Big Shanty was chosen for the site of the train hijacking because it lacked a telegraph station with which to relay news of the theft. The theory was that, as long as the raiders stayed ahead of anyone from Big Shanty, they could continue cutting wires and destroying track all the way to Chattanooga without being caught.
This led to “The General” running out of steam just a little later. The Raiders had achieved some success, but had failed to properly destroy any bridges, and the damage to the telegraph wires and tracks proved relatively quick to repair.
Mitchel, meanwhile, had decided to move only on Huntsville that day and delayed his advance on Chattanooga. All damage from the raid would be repaired before it could make a strategic difference.
An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the Ohio tribute to Andrews’ Raiders.
(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)
The Raiders, though, attempted to flee the stopped train but were quickly rounded up. Eight of them, including Andrews, were executed as spies in Atlanta. Many of the others, including Parrott, were subjected to some level of physical mistreatment, but were left alive.
“The General” went on an odd tour after the war, serving as a rallying symbol for both Union and Confederate sympathizers. “The General” was displayed at the Ohio Monument to the Andrews’ Raiders in 1891. The following year, it was sent to Chattanooga for the reunion of the Army of the Cumberland.
In 1962, it reprised its most famous moments in a reenactment of the raid to commemorate the centennial of the Medal of Honor. It now sits in the Southern Museum of Civil War Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia, the same spot from which it was stolen and the chase began.
Actor John Krasinski has been on a steady five-year come up. Even before acclaim was heaped onto both his acting and directorial performance in the 2017 horror movie A Quiet Place, Krasinski had successfully stepped out of the shadow of his more awkward and decidedly less muscular role as Jim Harper on The Office. Give him props, you can only count on one hand how many actors left The Office and convincingly did something that wasn’t comedic. Now Krasinski is doubling down on his newly badass vibes in the first trailer for his new show Jack Ryan where he plays the titular character.
Jack Ryan is set to debut on Amazon Prime and is yet another take on the character from author Tom Clancy’s classic spy novels. Though the character of Jack Ryan has been played by a bunch of actors— Chris Pine in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit; Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears; Alec Baldwin in The Hunt For Red October, and most notably Harrison Ford in Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games— no one but Ford has ever mustered a performance that was compelling enough to warrant more than one shot at playing Ryan. Krasinski though, he might have what it takes.
See, the cool thing about Krasinski as an actor sort of mirrors the cool thing about Jack Ryan as a character. Jack Ryan is an ex-soldier, yeah, but by profession, he’s an analyst— the guy who tries to dodge boring meetings, not bullets. But in the novels, Ryan is constantly thrust out of his comfort zone and forced to carry on like a spy, which, even for a soldier, is not remotely the same. HEll, in one of Clancy’s books Ryan even become president of the United States. The duality of Ryan as this brilliant desk jockey with a badass streak in him is what makes the character so good. Similarly, as an actor, Krasinski can be convincingly comical, normal-looking, and smart while also (per his performance in 13 Hours) having the ability to come off like he could kill you with a spork.
Similar to the Chris Pine and Ben Affleck entries into the Jack Ryan canon, the show for Amazon will be an origin story that shows Ryan make his first transition from behind his desk to behind enemy lines as a spy. Unlike other takes on the character though, this will be an episodic show which is good for Krasinski. Because it’s a show, he’ll have the space to come up short sometimes or not always hit the mark, but also to redeem himself episodes later. Movies are so much less forgiving in this regard, you just don’t get another chance at anything if it doesn’t work. Still, Krasinski has proven himself more versatile in the second act of his career, and Jack Ryan looks to be another exciting entry in it.
Jack Ryan debuts on Amazon Prime Video on Aug. 31, 2018.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
China reportedly sent an uninvited surveillance ship to spy on the recent joint military exercises with Russia, a move highlighting how lingering distrust and competitiveness weaken the so-called “strategic partnership” emerging between Moscow and Beijing.
Beijing sent thousands of People’s Liberation Army troops accompanied by tanks, helicopters, and artillery to eastern Russia for joint drills in September 2018. China also deployed a PLA Navy Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) vessel to shadow Russian naval assets training at sea while Chinese ground troops trained on land, USNI News reported, citing a US official. The latter was apparently not invited, but the opportunity to gather valuable intelligence on a competitor was presumably too good to pass up.
While consistent with past Chinese practices — the Chinese navy has sent spy ships to the Rim of the Pacific exercises — it is unusual to surveil an ally while training alongside them, even if it is technically legal under international law.
Given rising tensions between Washington and Moscow and Beijing, some observers suggested that increasing US pressure was driving Russia and China together, laying the groundwork for a possible alliance. A strategic military partnership between the two powers is alarming given each country’s interest in challenging America’s leadership and unilateral power and authority in the international system.
“It sends a signal to Washington that if the U.S. continues on its current course by pressuring Russia and imposing more sanctions, Russia will fall even more into the firm embrace of China,” Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Institute in Moscow recently told the Associated Press.
The Military Band of the Eastern Military District during the opening parade of Vostok 2018.
The “main political significance” of the Vostok 2018 drills “comes from the signaling by both Russia and China about the possible emergence of a strategic partnership, aimed at countering the threat that both countries feel from continued U.S. dominance of the international system,” Dmitry Gorenburg argued in The Washington Post.
The massive war games, touted as “unprecedented” and expected to be held every five years going forward, came as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to stand together against unilateralism. In June 2018, Xi called Putin his “best friend,” a sentiment seemingly shared by the latter.
But despite the budding bromance between Chinese and Russian leadership, the bilateral relationship between the two countries is undermined by decades of distrust dating back to the Cold War, when Soviet and Chinese troops skirmished along the border and tensions rose to the point that Russia was considering a nuclear strike on China.
Chinese state-affiliated media downplayed talk of a Chinese-Russian alliance, suggesting that the concept was being overhyped. “China and Russia are not allies, and they are firm in not forging an alliance,” the nationalist Global Times explained in a recent editorial. “But the outside world shouldn’t make China and Russia feel an urgent need to strengthen their military cooperation.”
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said recently that he sees “little in the long term that aligns Russia and China.”
Exactly what the Chinese intelligence vessel was doing remains unclear, but experts suspect that it was gathering information on Russia’s more technologically-sophisticated navy given China’s interest in advancing its radar and electronic warfare capabilities, USNI News reported. Assuming the ship was indeed uninvited, China may have been trying to learn more about Russian warfighting than Russia was willing to teach.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Kim Jong Un has arrived in Singapore ahead of a historic summit with US President Donald Trump — and he brought his toilet.
The North Korean leader is said to always travel with several toilets, including one in his Mercedes.
Daily NK, a South Korean website focusing on North Korea news, reported in 2015 that “the restrooms are not only in Kim Jong Un’s personal train but whatever small or midsize cars he is traveling with and even in special vehicles that are designed for mountainous terrain or snow.”
The publication quoted an unnamed source as saying, “It is unthinkable in a Suryeong-based society for him to have to use a public restroom just because he travels around the country.” Suryeong is a Korean term meaning “supreme leader.”
So, why does Kim always travel with several lavatories at his disposal? According to The Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, the portable toilets “will deny determined sewer divers insights into to the supreme leader’s stools.”
The secrecy of the North Korean leader’s health is, apparently, paramount.
“Rather than using a public restroom, the leader of North Korea has a personal toilet that follows him around when he travels,” Lee Yun-keol, a former member of a North Korean Guard Command unit who defected, told The Washington Post.
Lee explained, “The leader’s excretions contain information about his health status so they can’t be left behind.”
Kim’s urine and fecal matter are periodically examined to check for illnesses and other health indicators, according to Daily NK.
Germany wants to replace its fleet of 89 Tornado combat jets with a new aircraft that retains the plane’s nuclear capability, but doing so may mean the US gets a say about which aircraft the Luftwaffe ultimately picks, according to Defense News.
As part of a Cold War-era NATO deal, Germany’s Tornados were equipped to carry nuclear weapons in case of a major clash between the alliance and the Soviet Union. That threat waned after the Cold War, as did the number of US nuclear weapons in Germany, but about 20 of the weapons are still there.
Germany is deciding between three US planes — the F-35 and variants of the F-15 and F/A-18 — and a version of the Eurofighter Typhoon being developed by a European consortium.
A German air force Eurofighter Typhoon taxis to the runway at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska before a combat-training mission, June 11, 2012.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Michael Holzworth)
Berlin wants to replace the Tornado — which has been plagued by technical issues— by the mid-2020s. (Germany’s Typhoons have also had problems.) It is leaning toward the European-made Typhoon, but its desire to maintain that nuclear capability could mean the Trump administration will try to play politics with the purchase.
This spring, Berlin asked Washington whether it would certify the Typhoon to carry nuclear weapons, how long it would take to do so, and how much it would cost.
The certification process can take years. European officials working on the Typhoon have said they were confident it could be nuclear-certified by 2025, but US officials have said the process could take seven to 10 years, according to Reuters.
US officials have said that the F-35 and other aircraft must be certified for nuclear weapons first, and a Pentagon spokesman told Defense News that while Germany’s Tornado replacement was “a sovereign national decision,” the US believes “that a U.S. platform provides the most advanced, operationally capable aircraft to conduct their mission.”
F-35As taxi down the flight line at Volk Field during Northern Lightning, Aug. 22, 2016
(Photo by Senior Airman Stormy Archer)
The Trump administration has pushed European countries to spend more on their own defense, and Trump’s broadsides against NATO have helped inspire European officials to do so. But the Trump administration has also sought to boost exports of US-made weaponry, and US officials have grown concerned about European defense initiatives reducing US defense firms’ access to that market.
Those latter concerns mean the Trump administration could try to nudge Germany toward a US-made aircraft.
But Trump’s contentious dealings with Germany have reinvigorated debate in that country about acquiring its nuclear weapons or developing them with other European countries — ideas that are still anathema for many in Germany, where memories of the destruction and division of World War II and the Cold War linger.
That aversion to nuclear weapons and wariness of Trump may mean Germany will continue doing what it has been doing — paying the financial and political price to keep the nuclear-capable Tornadoes in the air.
“That’s why they will keep flying the Tornados, despite the price tag and despite having asked about a Eurofighter nuclear certification in Washington,” Karl-Heinz Kamp, president of government think tank the Federal Academy for Security Policy, told Defense News.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Mitsuo Fuchita was just shy of 40 years-old during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. When he took off in the observer’s deck of a Nakajima B5N2 ‘Kate’ torpedo bomber that day, he probably never imagined he would spend much of the rest of his life in the country he was set to destroy.
Commander Fuchita was in the lead plane of the first wave of bombers that hit Hawaii that day. He was the overall tactical commander in the air and led the attacks that destroyed American air power on the ground and crippled the Navy’s battleship force — a strike group of 353 aircraft from six Japanese carriers.
It was Mitsuo Fuchita who called the infamous words “Tora! Tora! Tora!” over the radio to the other Japanese planes.
He later wrote:
“Like a hurricane out of nowhere, my torpedo planes, dive bombers and fighters struck suddenly with indescribable fury. As smoke began to billow and the proud battleships, one by one, started tilting, my heart was almost ablaze with joy. During the next three hours, I directly commanded the fifty level bombers as they pelted not only Pearl Harbor, but the airfields, barracks and dry docks nearby. Then I circled at a higher altitude to accurately assess the damage and report it to my superiors.”
Fuchita next led the Japanese bombing of Darwin, the largest enemy attack ever wrought on Australia. He then led attacks on British Ceylon — now known as Sri Lanka — where he sank five Royal Navy ships.
He was still aboard the Akagi during the Battle of Midway, perhaps the most pivotal naval battle in American History.
When Midway began, Fuchita was below decks, recovering from appendicitis. He could not fly in his condition so he assisted other officers, coming up to the bridge during the fighting. When Akagi was evacuated that afternoon, Fuchita suffered two broken ankles as the bridge, already burning, exploded.
He was soon promoted to staff officer rank and spent the rest of the war on the Japanese home islands. Fuchita was even one of the inspectors who went to assess Hiroshima after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city.
When WWII ended, he left the Navy and converted to Christianity after reading a pamphlet written by Jacob DeShazer, one of the Doolittle Raiders who was captured after the raid. He was converted by the pamphlet but was astonished upon meeting DeShazer a few years later.
He called the meeting his “day to remember,” referencing the attack on Pearl Harbor. The experience with the Doolittle Raider changed him “from a bitter, disillusioned ex-pilot into a well-balanced Christian with purpose in living,” Fuchita wrote after the war.
After his conversion, Fuchita toured the United States and Europe as a traveling missionary, regretting the loss of life he inflicted during the war. America, the country he attacked in 1941, eventually became his permanent residence. He wrote numerous books about his wartime experiences and conversion to Christianity.
Though he spent much of the rest of his life in the U.S., Mitsuo Fuchita died in Japan in 1973.
The M982 Excalibur is the world’s most sophisticated artillery munition designed for a weapons system that was introduced during the Vietnam War: The M109 Howitzer.
This smart munition was co-developed by U.S.-based Raytheon Missile Systems and Swedish BAE Systems Bofors to precisely kill targets from long range and eliminate collateral damage. It gives a projectile the same precision you’d expect from a missile.
“You can aim the gun off target up to 20 degrees off angle and the round will still fly itself back to your target,” said Jim Riley from Raytheon Missile Systems in the video below.
The oil refinery in Bayji, a city in Tikrit, Iraq, has been heavily contested since ISIS first assaulted it in Jun. 2014. It was during that initial battle for Bayji that ISIS, attempting to force out hundreds of Iraqi troops and oil workers, launched a series of attacks that set the refinery on fire.
The smoke from Iraq’s largest refinery was so thick and dark that it could be seen on NASA satellites.
Last month, the U.S. Air Force made headlines around the world by suggesting that a new “5th generation minus” fighter might be the answer to the branch’s operational cost woes. After years of touting the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the future of military aviation, this announcement led to a flurry of headlines characterizing the F-35 as a failed program. Although that may be an unfair characterization of the aircraft itself (as we’ve discussed before), there’s no denying that the Joint Strike Fighter has proven to be both less capable and far more expensive than originally intended.
In truth, the Air Force didn’t write off the F-35 last month and more than it has in the past–like in 2018 when the branch threatened to reduce its order of F-35s in order to offset the aircraft’s high operating costs. Now, as then, the argument hasn’t been about whether or not the F-35 is a highly capable jet. In fact, among aviators who have spent time at the stick of the stealthy fighter, there’s little question as to how handy it is in a fight. The problem is, as is so often the case, really about money.
The F-35 is capable, but it’s also expensive.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s procurement price has lowered consistently over the past decade to the point where its per-unit price is now actually lower than that of the 4th generation powerhouse F-15EX being purchased as replacements for the force’s aging F-15s. That price is awfully misleading, however, for a number of important reasons.
A new F-35A will set the Air Force back a cool $77.9 million. For that price, the Air Force gets the stealthiest fighter on the planet with the best data fusion capabilities a fighter has ever seen… but only for 8,000 flight hours or so. Each of those hours, it’s important to note, cost the Air Force around $44,000.
The F-15EX, on the other hand, rings in at slightly more: about $80 million per jet–and while it may not be stealthy, the new F-15s are expected to have a whopping 20,000-hour operational lifespan, with each of those hours costing the branch about $29,000. Of course, it’s important to remember that the F-15EX isn’t a suitable replacement for the F-35… they really do fill very different roles.
The F-35 is a multi-role aircraft that isn’t the fastest or most nimble, nor does it carry a ton of firepower… but it is incredibly difficult to target, and perhaps most important of all, its onboard computers can manage disparate data from near and far sensors in a way no aircraft before it ever could. Having an F-35 in the neighborhood can actually make 4th generation jets nearby more lethal, thanks to fused data stream F-35 pilots have access to from inside their $400,000 helmets.
“There has never been an aircraft that provides as much situational awareness as the F-35,” explained Major Justin “Hasard” Lee, an F-35 pilot in the Air Force Reserves.
“In combat, situational awareness is worth its weight in gold.”
This is really what Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown, Jr was getting at in his recent comments that took the world by storm.
“You don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays,” Brown said.
“This is our ‘high end’ [fighter], we want to make sure we don’t use it all for the low-end fight.”
If money were no object, the Air Force would probably be happy to replace every F-16 in the force with a shiny new F-35, but ongoing issues with the aircraft have stalled full-rate production for years, and truthfully, the Air Force couldn’t afford to fly a fleet of F-35s that large. It’s probably also important to note that if money were really no object, the Air Force would probably kickstart production of the F-22 for air superiority roles again. Though, it’s important to note that restarting the F-22 would likely cost far more than developing a new and better fighter. Much of the supply chain and facilities used for the F-22 have since been cannibalized by the F-35 here in the money-is-an-object dimension we’re all trapped in.
6th Generation fighters won’t be any better
So, with the understanding that the F-35 isn’t a cost-effective solution to tactical operations in uncontested or lightly contested environments, some may be apt to suggest we go all-in on the development of a “6th generation” fighter like the one the Air Force claims to have already tested. That approach, however, isn’t going to solve the F-35’s budgetary woes. Chances are, a more advanced fighter would exacerbate them.
The reason the F-35 has proven so expensive is really a combination of its unprecedented nature and poor acquisition policies within the Defense Department. When the Joint Strike Fighter program began. Lockheed Martin’s X-35 and Boeing’s X-32 were asked to build something with a broader capability set and greater technological requirements than any fighter that had come before them. In a very real way, many within the aviation industry weren’t even sure an aircraft could do all the things the Pentagon wanted from this new fighter.
“If you were to go back to the year 2000 and somebody said, ‘I can build an airplane that is stealthy and has vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and can go supersonic,’ most people in the industry would have said that’s impossible,” Tom Burbage, Lockheed’s general manager for the program from 2000 to 2013 told The New York Times.
“The technology to bring all of that together into a single platform was beyond the reach of industry at that time.”
It was the F-35’s forward reaching goals, combined with a policy of concurrent production wherein Lockheed Martin would start delivering F-35s before they had been fully tested, that would eventually turn the program into a cautionary tale for defense budgeteers. And while some elements of the acquisition process have improved as a result… a “6th generation” fighter would struggle under some of the same challenges.
Fighter generational designations are not based on military standards or government policy–they’re really nothing more than industry terms used to lump fighters of similar capabilities together. Currently, there are no established requirements for what makes a “6th generation” fighter, but by its very definition, it would have to represent a significant jump in capability over fighters like the F-35 or F-22. New technology is always more expensive than the stuff you have on your shelf.
As such, a next-generation fighter would indeed offer useful new capabilities, but likely in a package that’s not much easier to pay for than our current stable of stealth jets. America needs to field such a fighter, but in the short term, putting all of our eggs in that basket likely would result in more fiscal woes, rather than fewer.
4th Generation fighters are part of the answer
Any time you mention funneling money into new 4th generation fighter programs like the F-15EX or the Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet, the response is the same: “Why buy old, non-stealthy fighters in this era of F-35s, F-22s, Su-57s, and J-20s?”
The answer is actually pretty simple. These stealth jets are unnecessarily expensive for combat sorties over places like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or most of Africa–all of which currently see U.S. troops embedded with local militaries for varying sorts of combat and anti-terror operations. Why pay $44,000 an hour for close air support when the better suited A-10 can do it for a measly $19,000 per hour?
And therein lies the importance of America’s legacy aircraft. In order to balance current combat operations with mitigating threats posed by near-peer nations like China, the U.S. needs jets that can handle today’s fight without draining the budget, so it can afford to build the right aircraft for the threats looming on the horizon.
Regardless of what sensational headlines may have told you in recent weeks, the F-35 isn’t seen as a failure among most of the Pentagon’s decision-makers. And thanks to the political insulation F-35 production has as a result of Lockheed spreading its facilities across most of America’s 50 states, few lawmakers are apt to vote against it either. The F-35 is here to stay. Now America needs to find ways to support it with other highly capable aircraft.
“The F-35 is the cornerstone of what we’re pursuing. Now we’re going to have the F-35, we’re getting it out, and we’re going to have it for the future,” Brown explained.
“The reason I’m looking at this fighter study is to have a better understanding of not only the F-35s we’re going to get but the other aspects of what complements the F-35.”
5th Generation “Minus” fighters may be just what the budget doctor ordered
This brings us to General Brown’s recent statements about developing a “clean sheet” fighter that couples some of the technological leaps found in 5th generation computing powerhouses like the F-35 with some of the cost savings found in 4th generation workhorses like the F-15EX. The result would be an aircraft that isn’t as advanced as the F-35, but more capable than non-stealthy 4th generation jets. This concept can already be found in the joint South Korean and Indonesian fighter program dubbed KAI KF-X.
The truth is, nothing in war stays the same, least of all technology. As new air defense systems are developed, older systems become more affordable. In time, America may well find itself operating in airspace that is more contested than we currently find in the Middle East, but not quite as heavily defended as Moscow or Beijing.
In much the same way the F-117 was tasked with flying ahead of the non-stealth aircraft participating in Desert Storm so they could bomb Baghdad as the fighting kicked off, F-35s and B-21 Raiders will likely fill that role in the future. It would be the job of America’s stealthiest platforms to soften up target areas for the rest of the force, engaging anti-ship platforms with the long-range B-21 to move carriers in, and then anti-air platforms with carrier-launched F-35s–as one example.
Once those two objectives have been met, less stealthy aircraft can move in. Once air dominance has been established, so can the non-stealthy missile and bomb trucks like the F/A-18 Super Hornets.
By fielding an aircraft that adopts a stealth design but perhaps doesn’t rely as much on costly-to-maintain radar-absorbent coating, you get a plane that’s more survivable than an F-16 and cheaper than an F-35. If these aircraft are cheap enough, they can even replace 4th generation fighters in lightly contested airspace, making them more able to respond to a surprise development than older jets. Likewise, data fusion capabilities, while not as powerful as the F-35s, would give pilots more situational awareness, also increasing their survivability, as well as offensive capability.
“When I think about that capability, I’m also thinking about the threat that we see today but the threat we’re projecting for the future,” Brown said.
“I want to have an understanding, which is why the study to me is important so we don’t just build something without thinking about the threat but also thinking about the complete fighter force. Not just the F-35 or NGAD.”
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need fighters. In a slightly less perfect world, they’d all be as stealthy as the F-35 and as dominant as the F-22. We live in neither, so in order to win America’s next war while supporting the ones we’re in, some budgetary compromise is required. A 5th generation “minus” fighter may be just that compromise.
Feature image courtesy of Korea Aerospace Industries
‘Empire’ is such a great word. It evokes images of lasting power, strength, and historical importance — even when it has nothing to do with an actual empire.
When it does have to do with an actual empire, you expect some kind of lasting imprint on humanity — some kind expansive reach; some kind of anything, really. Empires aren’t supposed to just rise for no reason and collapse like the Cowboys in the playoffs.
6. The Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire has a glorious 600-year history of basically just scaring Europeans about the spread of Islam. If you look at the current state of affairs, it’s obvious that Europe never needed the help in the first place. When it came to actually spreading Islam, the Caliphate wasn’t quite so good at it.
At its height, the Ottomans didn’t even have full control over the lands they supposedly ruled. As soon as they reached a period of peace and prosperity in the 18th century, they kinda let the whole Empire decline. And even when Ottoman military power recovered, they still suffered losses in territory and in wars. After choosing the wrong side of WWI, they became modern-day Turkey. At only 100 years old, it already has a history and culture more unique than the Ottomans ever had.
5. The German Empire
Another victim of poor decisions during WWI, the German Empire only lasted 47 years. That’s not even long enough for the Kaiser to have a mid-life crisis.
Even though it saw a lot of technological and industrial achievements, it pretty much squandered those on a couple of World Wars that it somehow lost. It was late to the game of creating a colonial empire — one with a plan that can be best described as “oh yeah, me too,” as they simply took what Britain and France left behind.
4. The Galactic Empire
As dramatic as the changeover from Republic to Empire might have been (as painstakingly recounted in the Star Wars prequels), their biggest achievements include getting beaten by a fleet of space fighters that resemble your Uncle Todd’s Camaro after spending all their time enslaving and killing entire populations.
Not to mention their big goal was trying to build the same space station twice and they got trounced in their efforts both times. They left no cultural legacy on the people of the galaxy except for “I’m so happy they’re gone.”
3. The Russian Empire
This was an empire that was constantly trying to keep up with everyone else. The few Tsars who managed to drag Russia, kicking and screaming, into being competitive, had to do it by some extreme means — like publicly cutting off beards.
Peasants in parts of Russia were essentially slaves from the 11the century until the 19th century. They weren’t emancipated until 18-goddamn-61. With all that free labor, Russia still struggled to keep up with the rest of the world. And we wonder why the Soviet Union was so popular at first.
2. The Holy Roman Empire
What is it? No, seriously. WHAT IS IT? French philosopher Voltaire once said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Like an early European Union, a group of small kingdoms and principalities chose their Holy Roman Emperor to operate out of any city he wanted. He ruled basically nothing and the smaller kingdoms could ignore him at their will.
Sure, individual emperors could get things done, but that was because of who they were outside of being the Holy Roman Emperor, not because actually being Holy Roman Emperor. It’s especially sad for the Holy Roman Empire that a family or dynasty could overshadow the whole history of the empire.
1. Austro-Hungarian Empire
Besides the Herculean effort to stop the Ottomans at Vienna (we went over that), Austria-Hungary is most famous for getting kicked around by Napoleon and losing the World War they dragged everyone into.
Imagine a family of really dumb, inbred, rich people who owned a huge plot of land and put an army on it. Then they hired their stupid friends to command the army because uniforms are cool. Then, that family’s neighbors always come bail them out when they’re losing wars because they don’t want the neighborhood going to shit.