F-35’s wings should be clipped

The Virginian-Pilot

The most expensive weapons acquisition in the world has been grounded again – for good reason. An F-35A Lightning II caught fire during a takeoff last Monday. That mishap followed an oil leak discovered in flight June 10 in one of the jets that forced it to return to base and caused the Defense Department to suspend flights temporarily.

The Air Force has suspended all F-35 operations as a safety precaution until officials are satisfied that it won’t be repeated. An investigation is under way to determine whether it’s a fleetwide problem. The Navy also continues to keep its version of the aircraft on the ground. The Marine Corps F-35B was supposed to resume flights this past weekend, a spokeswoman said.

Last year, a crack in the fan blade of one engine grounded the entire fleet for a week. A design error prevented the Marine Corps’ version from taking off and landing vertically, and the tailhook on the Navy’s model had to be redesigned before it could land on an aircraft carrier.

Critics say the Joint Strike Fighter, a radar-evading fighter jet manufactured by Lockheed Martin and still a few years away from finishing flight tests, tries to do too many things with one weapons system.

It’s supposed to be able to accelerate to supersonic speeds, take off and land vertically and provide a 360-degree view of the battlefield. With some modifications, it’s supposed to serve three branches of the military and our allies. It’s supposed to be the best fighter ever built.

But major design flaws have been uncovered repeatedly in some of the 100 or so F-35s in service across the country, and the cost of the 13-year-old program, at nearly $400 billion, is a defense budget buster. According to a 2013 Bloomberg report, the F-35 “counts 1,300 suppliers in 45 states supporting 133,000 jobs,” which explains why it’s been largely immune from sequestration cuts.

The Pentagon is pressing forward with the jet, its biggest item in the $496 billion defense budget. Ultimately, it plans to build 2,457 of them, as it pares tens of thousands of military and civilian jobs from the Army, including as many as 16,000 from Fort Bragg, N.C.

On Monday, as an F-35A was preparing to take off at Eglin Air Force Base, the pilot aborted because of a fire in the back of the jet. No one was injured.

The program is years behind schedule and has become a financial boondoggle and a threat to the rest of the defense budget. America shouldn’t spend another dime on the F-35 until and unless its maker can show that in the future it won’t be either.

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