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Jewish World Review
Feb. 28, 2012/ 5 Adar, 5772
Fighter of future still glued to tarmac
The U.S. cannot always count on having enemies like the Taliban and the Iraqi insurgents, ill-equipped, ill-trained and whose most effective weapon is a hole in the road with a bomb in it.
We have not fought a serious military force since Gulf War I. To the delight and perhaps relief of war planners, our high-tech weapons and constant training paid off then in defeating an enemy -- one that boasted it was the world's fourth-largest military -- almost literally in a matter of hours.
For at least 20 years since, the Pentagon has said the U.S. needs a new air-dominance aircraft to replace the nation's aging but still highly effective fleet of F-16s and F/A-18 Hornets.
The initial solution was thought to be the F-22 Raptor, perhaps the world's preeminent fighter jet. But its soaring cost, $150 million each, and a maddening series of technical problems caused Congress to cap production at 183 planes, because, in the meantime, a cheaper, more flexible alternative had emerged.
That was the F-35 Advanced Strike Fighter, a common platform that could be adapted for air-to-air combat and ground attack, landing on carriers for the Navy and taking off vertically to serve the Marines' needs.
Compared to other fighters of its generation, the F-35 had more sophisticated computers and other electronics, was stealthier, had greater range, and could carry more fuel and ordnance.
But the F-35 was supposed to have been in service by now -- 43 have been built and 2,443 are on order -- and, meanwhile, the costs, like the F-22's, are rising alarmingly, from $233 billion to an estimated $385 billion for the program.
With the war in Iraq over and the conflict in Afghanistan scheduled to wind down, the Pentagon budget is no longer as sacrosanct as it once was. A restive Congress is desperate to find something to cut, and you would think the military would want to present lawmakers with something like a (ital) fait accompli (end ital) to preserve a weapons system the Pentagon says the nation truly needs.
But the Associated Press has weighed in with a depressing progress report. Last fall, the Pentagon gathered the top guns from the Air Force, Marines and Navy at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle to learn how to put the F-35 -- now expected to cost between $112 million and $156 million each -- through its paces.
They're still waiting.
Occasionally, the pilots fire up the F-35s and taxi around the airfield, but otherwise their training is confined to simulators and older-model jets. The restless pilots are waiting for the order from Washington to begin serious training in the F-35. It hasn't come.
With the hundreds of billions we spend on defense, you would think we could get these things right. A weapon constantly in development is not a deterrent. We won't always be fighting peasants wearing sandals and carrying obsolete weapons.
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