Commenting on the F-35 fighter jets, head of the House Armed Services Committee Representative Adam Smith, said that the jet was a “rathole” draining money, raising questions about the most expensive system ever built and whether it should be gotten rid of.
It was first designed in the 1990s, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was meant to come as a meant conventional warfare fighter for the Air Force, as a carrier-based fighter for the Navy, and as a vertical-landing version for the Marines.
All three versions of the plane ended at least three years behind schedule, and against the original plan of 70 percent, they shared less than 25 percent parts with each other. The jet has hundreds of defects and they are still being corrected, and costs around $36,000 per hour to fly (compared to $22,000 for older version F-16). According to this, it will cost the public more than $1 trillion over its 60-year lifespan.
Recently, US Air Force chief of staff, Gen Charles Brown Jr. compared F-35 to the Ferrari that, “You only drive it on Sundays”, referring to how expensive the aircraft is, adding that for the rest of the days they are exploring less expensive options for the rest of the days. However, the Air Force chief of staff mentioned however that the F-35 is here to stay as it is out in the field.
It is worth mentioning that it might be flawed but it has its positives as well. The F-35 is a sophisticated plane, with the capability of generating a dynamic image of the battlefield that can be shared with friendly forces. Its cutting-edge helmet for the pilot melds imagery from many sensors into a single picture. The F-35 Lightning II fighter is considered the most advanced fighter in the world due to its advanced avionics, armament, stealth technology, and state-of-the-art features.
The Better Alternative
However, the US F-15EX jets, which the country has recently offered to India are much better than the F-35 on many fronts.
As general Brown said F35 is expensive and compared to the $36,000 dollar cost/hour of flying, the F-15EX costs $20,000 per hour. This is considerably cheaper for the everyday training sessions the Airforce has to do.
The F-15EX can fulfill a variety of roles including air superiority, interceptor, deep penetration strikes against enemy infrastructure, strategic bombing, and ground attack. According to reports, the new F-15EX has a combat range of 1,100 miles against F-35’s 670 miles. The former is faster and reached a speed of Mach 2.5 compared to the latter’s 1.6 Mach speed. F-15EX due to its heavy size can accommodate heavy radars and fuel.
Turkey’s failed deal with the US and new opportunities
US’s F-35 is something many NATO allies and Asian allies like Turkey want. Well, it can be said that Turkey wanted this jet before the sanctions were placed on Turkey for trying to purchase S-400s from Washington’s biggest rival, Russia.
The sanctions resulted in the F-35 deal getting scrapped and in return costing Pakistan turkey’s T-129 ATAK helicopters. This was because the engines that go in the said helicopters are manufactured in America, and the Pentagon has not cleared the export license for the company.
This has resulted in Pakistan turning to China for help.
On the 2nd of March, Bloomberg reported that Turkey is pushing to co-manufacture warplanes and missiles with its long-term ally Pakistan. “Turkish defense and government officials have held periodic talks with Pakistani counterparts — the last high-level discussion was in January — about developing and manufacturing military hardware with Pakistan”, Bloomberg added.
This would mean that US sanctions on Turkey and scrapping the F-35 deal has pushed both Turkey and Pakistan towards China for their military technology. Pakistan as a country already has co-built F-17 thunders with China and has adopted Chinese designs for its missile.
Turkey sees Pakistan as a potential partner for its TF-X stealth fighter jet project and pushing both countries further into a partnership with China will be a loss for the US’s F-35 market in Asia.
It is also worth mentioning that Pakistan has sold its JF-17 to Myanmar and Nigeria, and Argentina was a potential buyer in December 2020, however, no news of confirmation has yet surfaced.