Is the F-35 Lightning II Really as Bad as Its Critics Suggest

Few military programs have generated as much controversy as the F-35.
Australian F-35

The production of the F-35 is an ambitious program of the USAF. This aircraft is developed to substitute the aging AV-8 Harrier, F-16, A-10, and F-18C Hornets. This fifth-generation fighter contains sophisticated technologies, but its costs and regular disappointments got a lot of criticism.

Now, the expectation about the program keeps increasing, and according to many specialists, it’s not evident if the F-35 was worth the enormous investment.

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

Navy maintainers putting F 35s in air
Navy maintainers putting F-35s in the air by Samuel King Jr. Public Domain.

The F-35 is a stealthy and fifth-generation military aircraft developed to get offensive, ground, and air supremacy. 

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It has been produced since 2006 by Lockheed Martin to substitute the aging US fleet with 2,443 new aircraft to improve the nation’s safety.

The F-35 was conceived as the aircraft that will keep U.S. air supremacy with the capability to perform intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance in all combat scenarios.

f 325b
F-35B by Petty Officer 3rd Class Drew Verbis 
Navy Operational Support Center Phoenix

Specs

The aircraft has great technical advantages for a fighter with bomber capabilities – and it is definitely one of the best fighter aircraft available today.

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  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 51.4 feet (15.7 meters)
  • Wingspan: 35 feet (11 meters)
  • Height: 14.4 feet (4.4 meters)
  • Empty weight: 29,300 pounds (13,290 kilograms)
  • Max takeoff weight: 70,000 pounds  (31,751 kilograms)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 1.6
  • Range: 1,500 nautical miles (1,700 miles, 2,800 kilometers)
  • Combat range: 669 nautical miles (770 miles, 1,239 kilometers) 

An expensive aircraft

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Courtesy Photo Defense Contract Management Agency

The F-35 costs at least $80 million per unit, and in its F-35A model, it surpasses the $100 million mark. The entire F-35 program cost will be roughly $1.7 trillion.

Considering these costs, there have been many expectations regarding its performance – and the failures that the aircraft has shown don’t justify its price for many critics.

Criticism of the F-35

F 35 Lighting II
F-35 Lighting II by Airman 1st Class Heather Ley. Public Domain

The F-35 is the world’s biggest military program, the U.S. military will get 2,443 of these aircraft by 2036… and because of its high cost and technical problems, the F-35 has had many objections. 

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  • The F-35 has been under development since 2006, and the production is behind schedule.
  • Data leakage has been a problem. NATO members have had privacy issues while using the F-35 such as leaked mission data, repair reports, and other compromising data that could be viewed and processed by Lockheed Martin.
  • The F-35 can’t fly for a long time at high speeds as its coating is at risk of detachment, even if the USAF is currently experimenting with a new coating to enhance its stealthiness.
  • The USAF reported issues with the ejection seat.

The immense investment involved in this program has put a lot of pressure on the performance of these aircraft, and with so many disappointments and delays, the pressure has only grown. Lately, the first fatal accident with an F-35 in the Pacific added fuel to the fire.

In a state of suspended development

F 35 Lightning II begins DT II aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
F-35 Lightning II begins DT-II aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower by F-35 Lightning II Pax River ITF. Public Domain

The F-35 has been functioning for years – and it’s the most expensive weapon of the last decades. In addition, the U.S. Military’s air supremacy depends on it, and failures are less and less tolerated after 16 years of continuous development woes.

However, this aircraft is cutting-edge, and it’s normal for issues to appear as new technologies are implemented. So, the F-35 needs more time to prove its usefulness on the battlefield, but we’ll have to wait for the right chance for that to happen.

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Feature image credit: Australian F-35 by Staff Sgt. Jensen Stidham. Public Domain