F-35: Death spiral is closing in

Your assertion that the F-35 program – not just the software – is in a death spiral is belied by any knowledge of the program outside of that one memo you keep referencing.

You know John McCain, the guy who claims the title of DC’s top critic of various Pentagon weapons projects? Just about three months ago, he proposed to ADD eleven F-35s to the Pentagon’s budget for next year. Do you think Dr. Gilmore knows Congress’s intent for funding the F-35 program better than the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee?

The idea that Congress is pulling the plug (either now or in the foreseeable future) on the F-35 is so totally at odds with reality, it’s like you’re arguing the equivalent of vaccines causing autism, or that Donald Trump is the Green Party nominee for President.

Yes, testing will cost more. Yes, it will take more time. But no, the F-35 program is not in a death spiral of decreasing quantities leading to increased production cost leading to unaffordability and cancellation. You literally could not have any worse grasp of the growing support for the F-35 in the United States. Maybe five or seven years ago there was the possibility that the program would be curtailed. But now? Nuh-uh.

Because Lockheed Martin and the Government signed a contract that delineated each party’s responsibilities. Both LM and the Government are bound by that contract, and there’s no more rationality in LM volunteering to take on the Government’s responsibilities under that contract than there is any rationality of the Government just cutting a check to LM if they had a bad business year for some reason.

And actually, my plumber analogy is perfect. Have you ever hired a plumber? Serious question. Because if you have, you’d know that the plumber will likely offer you one of two types of contracts depending on what kind of work he’s supposed to do.

If it is a simple problem like an easily diagnosed clogged sink, he will say, “I’ll unclog your sink for $75.” He is then responsible to unclog your sink for that price.

If it is a complex problem, like things start mysteriously appearing in your toilet from god-knows where, he will say, “I’m not sure how much work this will take. So I’m going to charge you $125 per hour to diagnose and fix the problem.” It might take 10 minutes or eight hours to diagnose the problem – nobody knows because we don’t know what the problem is yet. It’s unreasonable to guarantee that the task will be completed at a certain time (and a certain cost) if nobody knows what the problem is.

So, if you hire a plumber to work at $125 an hour to do a difficult task, do you then get to change your mind and say, “Hey, I’ve already paid you for one hour – what the hell! Now you have to fix the problem for free, because I’m tired of paying you.” No, you don’t.

The Government hired Lockheed to do a complex task with the understanding they would provide their best effort, but best effort doesn’t mean guaranteed success on a schedule and cost that the Government would prefer. Just like how people get pissed off at how sometimes plumbers cost way more than they think they should.

Ravenman, the fact they are increasing orders very slightly is again irrelevant. It’s not enough to prevent the current death spiral which the F-35 is undeniably factually in, they are slipping further and further behind, that’s what a death spiral is. And yeah actually here is what McCain thinks of the F-35:


And do you realise, you are basically arguing for corporate socialism? losses are socialised while profits are privatized. Lockheed Martin made $5 billion* a year profit the last three years, despite being 10 years behind schedule and $163 billion dollars over budget on the F-35. I expect that if a business is so far behind schedule and over budget on a project for their biggest client, that yes they should contribute their own resources to make up the gap. As a business owner myself I certainly have to do that, even if the contract doesn’t say that, or I have zero hope of ever getting work from that client again.

As a taxpayer why are you not outraged at the cost over-runs? Why are you not demanding that the government should hold those responsible accountable? That’s a reasonable request. I’m an Australian taxpayer and my government is supposed to buy 72 F-35’s and I am outraged at paying my money to a company that does not deliver on time or for the amounts agreed. I demand better and so should you.

Is there any non-nuclear means of delivering EMP powerful enough to do that?

No, a death spiral is not “slipping further behind schedule.” A death spiral is commonly understood to be a defense program in which development problems cause cuts to procurement quantities, leading to increased R&D AND procurement costs, forcing further procurement cuts, and eventually program termination. If procurement is increasing, there is no death spiral. It’s nonsensical.

Okay, so you quote a news article from April 2016. Here is a speech from John McCain on June 8, 2016:

The fact is that John McCain authored a proposal to add 11 F-35s to the Pentagon’s budget. Again, Congress isn’t cutting F-35s, they are ADDING them, including the guy who calls the program a “scandal.” If even the top critic of the F-35 is in favor of increasing procurement of them, you cannot with a serious face assert that Congress is going to start cutting the program.

All I’m doing is saying that the Government and Lockheed signed a contract, and it is reasonable to expect both sides to uphold their agreement. I can criticize the F-35 program a lot – a exceedingly poor premise of having one design for three different aircraft, for example. But nobody held a gun to the Government’s head to sign that contract, but since it has, it has the legal responsibility to carry it out.

Maybe you should improve your negotiating skills.

I’m not happy about the cost overruns at all, but people who have a loose grasp on this program think it is the worst defense program in history. It isn’t. I mean, it’s not good, but there are plenty of much worse programs.

The acquisition cost of the F-35 is something like 25% over its original estimate. (Not going to look up the precise number because its not worth the effort for this discussion.) That’s not good news. But the SBIRS satellite, which detects if a nuclear missile is launched at the US, is more like 250% over its original cost estimate. The national missile defense system is probably 50% over its cost estimate. The new helicopter for the President was going to cost $12 billion for 23 helicopters before it was thankfully shot in the head in 2011. I’m not happy about it, but a 25% increase in price for the F-35 is not the worst thing that’s ever happened to this country.

No dog in this race but regarding the test pilot’s review, I can take almost all of his opinions as expert/experienced ones but:

seems kinda amateur.

You are being incredibly dishonest and you know it, all those programs might be more than the F-35 as a percentage but as total dollar value they are nowhere near the cost to the taxpayer of the F-35 over runs.

So answer me this, why should the US government and the Australian government not say this to Lockheed Martin: You are not getting one cent more towards the F-35 until you deliver one single fighter than performs according to Block3F agreed standards. Pay for that yourself and if you can’t then you get no government contracts ever again. I am arguing in favour of accountability and responsibility, if you don’t agree with that then basically you are in favour of cronyism and corporate socialism. Give me results we agreed on or you don’t get my business, in any other industry that is normal and expected practise, why should government defense spending be immune to this?

I think you should apologize for calling me dishonest.

I’m not sure how to explain this again: the contract between LM and the Government did not guarantee the delivery of a precise product to a certain spec on a certain schedule at a certain cost. The contract says that the Government would, in essence, pay Lockheed to work on the product. It’s like the difference between being paid per piece (“you get $10 for every shirt you sew”) as opposed to hourly (“you get $15 per hour for sewing shirts”). If you sign a deal for the latter, you can’t arbitrarily demand it to be changed to the former at no cost.

As far as your suggestion that the U.S. and Australian governments stop awarding contracts to Lockheed until they perform free work in violation of the contract that the U.S. government signed, its a stupid threat that nobody would ever take seriously. The equivalent of a toddler’s tantrum.

Do you really believe that the US government would cancel all contracts for UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, Aegis radars for Navy destroyers, C-130 cargo planes, Trident nuclear missiles, F-16 and F-22 maintenance, Hellfire missiles, GPS satellites, and on and on with the expectation that Lockheed will somehow miraculously fix the F-35 on their own nickel?

Sir, I’d like to have some of whatever you are smoking. It must be reallllly good stuff.

Nope, that is not what I said, I said no more dollars towards the F-35 specifically until they deliver an F-35 Block3F functioning sample, and that is already 10 years behind schedule and $163 billion dollars over budget. They can continue other contracts in the meantime. However if they can’t deliver a Block3F functioning sample at all with what they’ve already been paid, thats an absolute failure on their part, and they should pay a very significant price for that. The US government as their biggest client has all the power in this negotiation, why shouldn’t the US government use that power to get a better deal? Again I am asking for accountability and transparency. Saying I’m throwing a toddler’s tantrum only makes you look stupid.

Sorry, I misread. That was a mistake on my part.

Okay, so the Government would be terminating the F-35 program if it said “no more money until you fix things on your own dime.” The government would be defaulting on its obligations on the contract, and would likely end up owing Lockheed money under termination for convenience of the government. Is that what you want – for the F-35 program to stop in its tracks and for Lockheed to be owed probably hundreds of millions in termination costs, that any court in this country would surely enforce?

I would still like to see an apology for calling me dishonest.

ETA: by the way, the Pentagon has routinely been negotiating better and better prices on production of the jets. Each year, costs are dropping about 3% on new orders, which you may not be aware of.

Not that I can think of, but it’s a little to the side of my point. We have a history of building “super duper mo’ bettah” war systems in peacetime that don’t survive the first weeks of conflict. Yeah, we can B-1 the F-35 and only send it into totally controlled situations where we have air superiority and even ground control… but then it might as well be a Beech Twin with two riflemen in it. (Of which we could send around 3-500 for every F-35.) What we have is an SDMB - and that acronym is TOTALLY random, really! - that is too expensive, too fragile, too maintenance-intensive and thus too limited for anything but this very cocooned use… or to throw at enemy forces in desperation, probably with nukes somewhere around.

We never learn until the reality of war scorches our eyebrows, again. The F-35 is a Yuppiemobile for a military far too assured it will never be in anything but a totally dominant, controlling position.

Paying hundreds of millions in termination costs would still be better than paying billions more and not getting what was agreed on. And again it’s dishonest of you to claim that the government just asked for Lockheed Martin to work on the F-35 with no guarantees of performance. You know perfectly well that Lockheed Martin got the contract for the F-35 only after a comprehensive bidding process where they made an implicit promise of what would be delivered.

Lockheed Martin needs to put up or shutup, deliver the F35 Block3F by 2018 or pay a very significant price, the US government in the meantime should be giving smaller contracts to other players in the defense market to encourage competition.

Such as what?

The aircraft carriers, F-15s, Abrams, AH-64s, B-52s, F-14s, F-16s, F-18s, B-2s, E-3s, JSTARS, etc. “survived the first weeks of conflict”, no?

I’m talking about a real war, not a regional conflict where we can stand off and throw high-tech rocks all day, and weep over combat losses a fraction of a percent of the enemy’s. But of course that will never happen again.

Okay, let’s put some meat on your argument.

So we have three scenarios:

  1. Lockheed caves to your threat of F-35 termination, pays for everything the Government wants. I maintain that this is redonkulous, because Lockheed would almost certainly go with scenario #2.

  2. Lockheed refuses to cave. The Government has sunk $120 billion into the program already, and will have roughly 350 jets that are more or less broken to some degree or another. The F-35 program is over.

  3. Or, we can not make an silly threat and manage through this, have the Government drive hard bargains, and for about $210 billion more – eh, lets say theres another $5 billion in additional R&D costs, so for $215 billion more, the Government gets an additional 1,900 jets that will work better than the 350 that we have on order.

I maintain that #3 is the only realistic scenario. I’d rather spend $330 billion and have 2,400 working jets over the next 50 years, than spend $120 billion on 350 broken jets today.

Um, yes it’s all too possible that will happen again, but it will go nuclear within two or three weeks of initiation, and well it won’t be the end of human society, but it will certainly put an end to civilization as we know it.

This is another very good argument against the need for the F-35. Using a $100 million dollar planes to bomb insurgents in a Toyota technical is beyond absurd. And if we’re fighting Russia or China, it will go nuclear, very quickly. So we don’t need the F-35 for the wars we are fighting, and it can never win in the wars they are trying to protect against, so tell me exactly why the US needs thousand of F-35s? What role will they play in actual usage that can’t be performed more cheaply by current 4G fighters?

Edit: Ravenman your argument is ridiculous. Lockheed cannot win in an argument with their biggest client. I am saying deliver the F-35 block 3F with what you’ve been paid or you get no new contracts from the government (finish the current ones). Simply put they have to agree to that, who else are they going to turn to? Due to national security laws they can’t just turn around and say “ok we’ll sell our best jets to Russia instead?”. Yes scenario 1 is absolutely what would happen.

You’re probably the only person I’ve ever spoken to who thinks that the F-35 is a bigger deal to Lockheed than it is to the armed forces.

If this is a game of chicken on who is going to blink before the F-35 would be cancelled in your preposterous ultimatum, it is a rock-solid guaranteed lock that the Government would blink first.

You can blame whomever you wish: the military-industrial complex, spineless politicians, greedy generals, me, the writings of Noam Chomsky, or anyone or any thing. You know damn well that the US Government would never carry out a threat to terminate the F-35 program over software delays. Get real.

This false dichotomy is based off the blithe assumption that countries with nukes are happy to use them in war, and boxes you into an undesirable situation.

It’s like saying, “I don’t need a fire extinguisher in my home because if the fire is small, I can smother it with a towel, and if it’s big, it’ll kill me anyway, so why bother?”

Russia and China have no more desire for things to go nuclear, than America.

it’s a 1.5 trillion dollar deal so yes I think it is a very big deal to Lockheed, again all their other big contracts are also to the US government, so the US government has all the power here, that is undeniable. There is many many shades of grey between outright cancellation and the current situation.

And nope you have no evidence at all that the government would cave first, they should buy samples from other 4.5G foreign made fighters, put them in a test squadron and then renegotiate everything with Lockheed Martin. Simply put if you don’t think this is a good idea, given the current track record, you have to be either a Lockheed Martin shareholder or employee (maybe indirectly, they have many layers of contractors). Why else would you argue so vehemently in favour of a company that is 10 years behind schedule and and $183 billion over budget?

Sorry to have to revisit basic facts here, but it isn’t a $1.5 trillion contract for Lockheed. That $1.5 trillion includes operations costs such as fuel and the maintenance performed by Air Force, Navy, and Marine personnel. The more accurate figure for Lockheed’s true interest is the roughly $320 billion acquisition cost, of which we’ve already spend a third.

I’m done with this silliness that the US could legitimately threaten to buy a Grippen or something. I understand your frustration, but this is just fantasyland thinking. You seriously think that President Obama, President Clinton, or President Trump would in all seriousness propose to Congress that tens of thousands of American jobs related to the F-35 ought to be eliminated due to software bugs, and that instead the world’s most capable Air Force buy Swedish fighters? Come on.

And I’m not a Lockheed Martin investor or employee. I simply have knowledge of this issue, and I’m tired of explaining the ABCs of what contracts are or how the US Government doesn’t want to buy major defense articles from European countries.