The first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter arrived at Luke Air Force Base this week, which will be the primary training base for the new airplane.
The memory of Frank Luke deserves better. But it is also appropriate that the quintessence of the Military Industrial Complex's rackets should be operating alongside the top guns of the Real Estate Industrial Complex's hustles.
If you're new to the F-35 Lightning II, the program was intended to produce an affordable, durable, next-generation stealth fighter that could be manufactured in mass numbers to replace all of today's fighters. Not only that, but it would be used by all the jet-based services, including the Marines who demanded a short take-off and vertical landing version.
It was intended to be widely sold to U.S. allies. And this backbone of the future Air Force, Marine and naval tactical aviation was touted as a wonder: Not only with stealth capabilities, but a highly advanced "combat suite" for the pilot, including a helmet providing 360-degree "situational awareness" and relaying this to other F-35s and controllers.
Instead, it has become a disaster of trillion-dollar proportions. Only Lockheed Martin is happy.
Almost nothing is working out as promised, from its costs to its capabilities. And we're not talking about the normal bugs to a new aircraft. If you want to read deeper, I recommend these sites: War is Boring, Real Clear Defense and the Diplomat.
The definitive piece outside the specialty press on the F-35 remains Vanity Fair's "Will It Fly?" The article has stirred a backlash among the F-35's defenders, but it is worth reading. For one thing, it contains the sentence, "To paraphrase an old Jimmy Breslin line, the F-35 is such a bastardized thing that you don’t know whether to genuflect or spit."
A few salient points: The F-35 is fatally compromised by having to meet the Marines requirement. It won't be a good air superiority fighter — the better jet is the F-22, canceled after just 187 aircraft were put into service. And Chinese hackers gained access to much of its advanced technology and it has been integrated into the newest PLA fighter.
My point isn't that this is another Bob McNamara one-size-fits-all F-111 failure. Comparisons to the troubled F-4 Phantom are also unhelpful because the Air Force had other fighters to fall back on.
Rather, it is how the F-35, like the useless littoral combat ship, is another sign that the big defense contractors have so gamed the system for their own profits as to put national security at risk.
Cost overruns have become so prevalent that the Navy, which should be the point of our spear, can't replace its ships. This will become more dangerous as the budget is eaten up to replace the Ohio-class ballistic missile subs, the most potent part of our nuclear triad.
And the Pentagon bureaucracy has become so compromised, fraud-ridden and complacent that our nuclear forces are falling apart. This is especially troublesome considering that Russia sees "limited nuclear war" as a key element of its strategy to meet any "threat" — something that will no doubt leave Ukraine for the bear to dismember.
Like the British Army from Waterloo to 1914, our forces have been fighting the equivalent of colonial wars. Combat will be very different against a major power.
When it comes, and it will, we will find ourselves in the military equivalent of the housing crash and financial panic. But these boondoggles and scandals will have body counts. And we may well lose that war.
The corruption and corporate evil make Gen. Smedley Butler's "war is a racket" axiom seem naive by comparison. And the consequences will be far worse than the torpedoes in the early part of World War II that didn't work, or the inferior Sherman tanks that could triumph through numbers.
Think on this as Luke's PR campaign ramps up for the F-35.