JSF’s Ill-timed Red Stripe

Late last week all 25 Marine Corps F-35Bs were grounded due to a fuel leak that was discovered during a training flight out of Eglin AFB, according to a Reuters report.  The other JSF variants were unaffected by the action, and ground testing of the VTOL version of the jet continues.

At the same time, Business Insider reports that the next-gen fighter/bomber — all models of the Lightning II (ironic, ain’t it) — could explode in midair if hit by lightning (and I can tell you as an airborne lightning strike vet (thrice in the Tomcat) it happens enough to be a valid concern).

These are bad days for these sorts of events and realizations.  The Pentagon has started acting on anticipated budget shortfalls even as the sequestration debate gets pushed to the right by several months, and after the Department of Defense works it’s way through downsizing end strength, freezing civilian hires, and cutting its benefit payouts, they’ll walk the crosshairs onto the acquistion programs of record . . . especially those that have dubious programmatic histories in terms of cost, performance, and schedule.

This most recent Red Stripe issued by NAVAIR on the F-35B is strike two for the program.  As documented in a recent DOT&E report the program halted durability testing late in 2011 when cracks were found after 2,000 hours of flight time on a bulkhead that was designed to last at least 8,000 hours.

Some of this is just the nature of test, of course.  Every great weapons system has had problems during development — every one.  And every program has fought budget pressures along the way.  But what’s different these days is the magnitude of the budget pressure added to a Congress that’s sort of feeling like the Pentagon had a blank check for the last 12 years (except for lawmakers with defense corporations in their districts, of course).

And if a variant has to go, it’s going to be the Marine Corps one.  The Corps’ love of amphibious warfare and CAS flown from dirt airfields close to the action yielded the Harrier (thanks, General Miller), and the AV-8’s history is as much defined by mishaps and groundings as it is VTOL utility in the field.  (It’s super-cool at airshows, though.)  So, when the budget axe hits the requirements side of the house — and only one service is pleading its case — it might get ugly for our pilots-in-green.

  • blight_

    Dare I ask if the F-22 has been tested for lightning strike survivability?

    • Dfens

      Depends on your definition of “survival”. A good sized bolt will blow a chunk out of the skin. I remember back in 1995 when the F-22 program all of the sudden discovered that lightening hits airplanes. We all got one more opportunity to redesign all of the airplane’s structure as they added a ply of copper mesh to the inside of the skins. The deal with stealth aircraft is they are designed from the outside in. Add a ply to the skin and everything underneath has to change. The good news, though, is the development program was able to drag on a little longer because of that “oversight”. The longer it drug on, the more money it cost the US taxpayer. It’s just like clubbing baby seals…

  • BlackOwl18E

    I’m not surprised. I’m just trying to guess which F-35 version will be cancelled first: the F-35B or the F-35C. The F-35C is actually easier to kill since it doesn’t have any foreign orders. The Super Hornet with decent armament and upgrades is all that the Navy needs and ever will need for a long time.

    • tee

      Agreed BlackOwl18: the Navy can buy more Super Hornets,Growlers & UCAV’s and it will be OK for now and would save Billions of $$$ which it needs to build ( those gray floaty things called Ships). At current prices you can get 4 Junk Strike Fighter C Models or buy 1 LCS, which is a whole different can of worms, but that’s their current options. And SecNav Mabus & Under Secretary Work, have eluded to doing just that.

      • Guest

        Canada might (in the end) be interested in the C…They seems to have an odd craving for carrier things, and this one they can even refuel in-flight themselves!

        • Sanem

          you mean the Canada that went from “secured orders” to “let’s rethink everything” a month ago?

          or the F-35C that doesn’t even have a good landing hook?

    • obviously

      BlackOwl never misses a chances to spew his F-35 hating commie c**p

    • Sanem

      yep, the Navy has been hedging its bets from day one with the F/A-18E/F (where the USAF went “freeze all other fighter buys, the F-35 will be here on time and on budget”)

      UCAVs also offer way to big advantages to the USN for the F-35C to pose even the smallest competition (range, cost, expendability)

    • dennisbuller

      I am a fan of the A-10.
      But can it land on an aircraft carrier? A Gator freighter?….

    • RunningBear

      None will be cancelled.

    • matheusdiasuk

      If the F35B is cancelled, the british are totally screwed.

      Those Harriers start to look so much amazing day by day.

  • Simple Man

    Bring back the A-10 or the Skyraider.

  • crazy

    Hard to believe it was overlooked. Suspect the program office approved removing add-on lightning strike materials as a weight reduction effort based on statistical analysis predicting a very low probability of lightning strike in the life of the fleet. Not very comforting to the jock in the seat who wins the lightning lottery.

    • blight_

      When you make promises on how wonderful your JSF is based on its technological payload combined with promises of low weight, at some point those two trucks are going to hit each other head on.

      An F-35 with less doodads that meets the weight limits or one with doodads but sacrifices lightning survivability? Hmm…!

  • Lance

    Keep saying keep the C or B scrap the problem prone B before it kills the whole program.

    • sailor12

      Do you know how much money they spent to setup that base in Yuma? All the personnel they had to move there with their families, Housing, exchange commisary and recreation. Thats a lot of MONEY.

    • tiger

      And the Fleet Air Arm Gets a Carrier with no planes? Not a option……….

  • Ronaldo

    Talk to any of the Lockheed engineers and they will tell you that the entire design structure was badly compromised by the requirements of the B. Less so for the C though even there, there was a cost to the CV capability.

    For a broad brush confimation of this, do check out the different performance figures for the various versions particularly in turning force ( G’s) roll rate, and usefull payload.

    Better for all that the Marines had ditched the B and not put their burden on the other services.

  • Chops

    What about the fact that the Brits are building two carriers w/o catapults and are counting on the B model as their naval fighter-bomber—I doubt they can change things now.

    • Peter

      I’m from the UK and I can’t see that as being anything other than a huge mistake! We should have built the carriers with “cats & traps” and bought F18’s. It would have been far cheaper and more satisfactory. I find it hard to believe we’ll ever see any F35’s with our colours on. Not even sure about yours!

      We should also have built the carriers nuclear powered, but that is another story.

      • eaglemmoomin
      • badrivet

        The rumore mill that has been feeding me has it that this is esentially, at the moment the plan. Your carrier is on hold pending this decision. If indeed F-18’s they want the U.S. to install the reactors. We both will find out if its fiction.

    • Sanem

      no problem, all they need to build is a good STOVL UAV platform and just transplant the software from the Taranis. cheap, fast and effective

    • Vulpine

      I wouldn’t put it past the Brits to be working on a new VTOL craft of their own by now. This thing is more than 5 years late and way, WAY over budget.

  • TonyC

    The fuel leak could have been a loose fitting, no explanation was given. Grounding a aircraft type when a hazardous condition is dicovered is pretty much standard operating procedure. This may be nothing at all.
    For the F-18E/F proponents, it had major deviation of flight issues in flight testing at Patuxent River that could have cancelled that program if the US Navy had not been behind the project 100%. The F-18E/F that is in the fleet is not like the prototypes,
    so this type of problem is nothing new.

  • Tribulationtime

    Anyone can show me where found info about F-35C?.

  • Rob

    The F-35 should, by all intents and purposes be cancelled – it’s failed to comply with every DoD Acquisition Law known to man. Sadly, it will not be cancelled at least in part because Lockheed-Martin is in bed with so many members of Congress it’s not funny. It’s a clear target for budget cuts – please refer to the previous statement to understand why it hasn’t been cut. F-35 replace the A-10 – not in a million years! We’re in quite the conundrum here – the F-22 is probably what we need the most (another L-M effort with a number of problems) for the truly high-threat areas and it’s gone very likely to never return. For most applications A-10s and the F-Teen aircraft (15,16, 18) are just fine and I’m sure Boeing would gladly sell us new build F-15s possibly even the semi-stealthy F-15SE and is still delivering F-18s now which incorporate some L/O properties themselves and could probably do more in that area.

    • Rob

      Let’s not forget that Boeing also now supports the Harrier – bet they know where the dies and jigs for that badboy are as well.

    • Jon

      I agree Rob, keep it simple. Hard to beat modified Teen series and then there is the A-10…

  • Mzungu

    I fail to see how scraping the B would save the A and C. The design works all like 90% finished on all 3, isn’t it?. it’s not like the engineers are now free to move the engine or the wing and tails around on the A & C for better performance without a few more billion dollars. Did I miss something?

  • heloshark

    If any F-35 variant is cancelled to make this budget situation work, bet a steak dinner it’s the “C” variant that goes. The Navy has GREAT options, the Super Hornet and the Growler. The Marine Corps doesn’t.

  • Gary

    It always amuses me when somebody compares the chances of something happening(winning the Lotto, etc.) with the odds of getting struck by lightning. The odd of getting struck by lightning WHERE and doing WHAT?
    Sitting at your desk in the office: Extremely Low.
    Flying you supersonic jet fighter/bomber through/near a convective cell: Significantly Higher.

  • Ripley

    I don’t think it was the USMC’s love of CAS from dirt airfields that yielded the Harrier. It was the British RAF’s love of CAS from dirt airfields.

    The RAF and RN also showed what VTOL jets flying off small carriers and dirt forward airbases can do when the British liberated the Falklands.

    It was a compromise too far to try and make a conventional and VTOL version of the same plane, but VTOL jets can be game changers, especially when you can’t afford big deck carriers.

  • C-Low

    My personal observation is that if any of the variants are secure it is the F-35B Marine VSTOL version. Why well simply any/all fortune tells point to the Pacific and allies carrying much more burden. The harrier is old outdated and their is NO OTHER option for replacement but the F-35B. All our pacific ring allies are building up their anfib size ships with the assumed but not always loudly stated prospect of F-35B’s flying off their decks.

    Bottom line is this
    -F-35C has options for F-18 superbug and UCAV
    -F-35A well has the stiffest competition across the board from multiple nations.
    -F-35B has no replacement leaving the US anfibs without air power the pole position warship in any Pacific oriented plan and or small war plans we are currently stuck in. Then think Britain who is building a jump deck carrier that will what, Japan, Australia, S Korea, etc… we are going to leave them all vacant?

    If any of the F-35 variants have a needed hole to fill it is the F-35B. Without it our whole Pacific strategy collapses along with huge amounts of our allies already spent monies on their Anphibs. Not to mention with less carriers and small wars across the 3rd world the F-35B equipped Anphibs open lots of doors while keeping the big boys concentrated on the BIG problems holding down the lid.

    Look at France in Mali with south of 20 fighter bombers and roughly 2500 french troops they blunted a advance turned the line and are pressing close to Goa and soon to push north and/or northeast. Hmmm what does the US have that carries roughly 2500 troops/marines and can operate around 20 fighter bombers?

    just my 2 cents.

  • Flash Gordon

    When a member of the team is not cutting it, you cut them at some point rather than holding on to them to longer and longer…

    If you cut the VTOL F-35, the LCS, the B-52 or B-1 and cut the Army’s heavy armor/artillery in half you solve most of your budget problems without degrading your actual combat capability…

    Somethings have got to go to save the most important capabilities…

    • JohnnyRanger

      How on earth do you cut us down to 20 bombers and cut our armored and artillery forces in HALF and not degrade combat capability? I am sure I am reading your post wrong.

      • Flash Gordon

        Not to just 20 bombers (B-2) but one of the legacy bombers, Buff or Bone, 94 B-52’s or 66 B-1’s, we have an overkill (pun intended) and can save money and recapitalize by cutting and then reinvesting… the FB-22 or B-3 NGB are good starts…

        Armor and artillery (unless prepositioned) are not going to be able to be put into theater quick enough before it is all over for most of the scenarios we are now focusing on with the Pacific Pivot, the Army will have to be light and quick to operate in a theater with the “tyranny of distance” – MBTs and Howitzers are not going to matter since they will not get to the fight fast enough (Taiwan, insurgency in the Philippines, etc…)

        Airpower and fast moving infantry via amphibious assault and airdrop…

  • Mastro

    Should I ask if anyone’s tested the F35B and C for salt water resistance?

    • JohnnyRanger

      Hahaha! Well, the -C as first designed couldn’t catch an arresting wire, so maybe it’s not that outlandish!!!

    • Charley A

      Surprisingly, they actually thought about that. The JSF is designed to naval aircraft corrosion standards – which the USAF complained about – so hopefully it won’t corrode as much as the F-22.

  • Mastro

    Is the problem with the F35 and lightning that older planes made from aluminum are basically big Farraday cages- while new composite ones are begging for a fire?

  • RetiredSNCOavionics

    The B should be the last to be cancelled, no one has mentioned the Sept. Attacks on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, and we suffered the largest single incident losses of marine corps aviation since Viet Nam. Almost %70 of our newly upgraded AV-8B Harrier fleet was either destroyed or put so out of commision it would take months of depot level repair to get back to flying ready again. This incident alone is why the B Model F-35 is an imparative now for the USMC.

  • Brad

    I support the JSF program. But there is also a bit of a paradox. I am also going into the Navy and was considering being a pilot untill I read up on the C version single engine death trap. No thanks. Even worse that lightning can take them out. With no second engine any problem and the plane is in the sea. Give the C a second engine or fix this lightning problem. Untill then its IW or IO for me.

    • dennisbuller

      Brad, don’t be a sissy. You want to be a pilot? You have to have make yourself have balls of brass.
      Every air-frame the military puts out has issues. The original F-18 landing gear folded up when it landed on carriers. Its bombs popped off. It cracked, everywhere.
      The F-14 had bad engines originally (so long to Goose…). The new engines would burn through the casing at low altitude on after burn.
      My squadron lost a plane and pilot to that last situation. We also had the pilot in squadron who had that happen to him. He and his REO were able to slow down enough to eject. This was all caught on camera for Discovery Carrier documentary.
      The pilots call name was then changed to Comet….
      Shooting aircraft off the nose of a carrier is dangerous. And the limited number of aircraft made along with their complexity means lessons are learned in blood.
      But that is why we place pilots on a pedestal.
      That is why they are the best of us.

      • tiger

        Brad ,The world is full of Crusader, F-16, Super Etendard, Skyhawk & Mirage Pilots.
        All have 1 engine. It is not 1956 with some crappy Westinghouse powerplant for power.

    • hornet guy

      you wouldn’t make it two weeks into flight training.

    • Albert

      Give it another engine? Welcome to the infantry Brad.

  • alex gafford

    The answer is clear. For the Marines, restart the AV8B+ line to give air to ground and basic combat air patrol capability (Amraam) for the the Marine carriers which will be used against second or third tier opponents. The Brits can fly them too as they will, realistically, have the same tasking. Then concentrate on getting what we can out of the A and C versions for deterrence and, if necessary, use against first tier opponents.

  • Dan71

    Not to rehash the corruptive properties of companies like Lockheed and the Congressmen they own – its a wonder just how often we end up giving the military sub-standard material just because there is the overwhelming need to make one aircraft, rifle, ship, or tank do all the jobs multiple pieces of equipment did beforehand. I know having one “whatever” makes logistics easier – but this is a perfect example when you’ve gone one application too far. Somebody needs to lose their stars and I’m sure some need to spend some time in jail.

  • itamar

    i just could not get why develop a 5th generation manned fighter when it’s clear that the pilot is the main limitation for it’s performance.
    drones and uav are cheaper and can outperform any manned platform.

  • SMSgt Mac

    Since we’re being unserious:
    Shouldn’t DT have saved the cheap shots for when the F-35 lightning-protection system is,say… oh I don’t know…maybe after it is SUPPOSED to be certified (current schedule sometime in FY13)? the F-35 hasn’t shot down any PAK-FA’s yet either. Maybe we can snipe about that tomorrow.

  • mzungu
  • guest

    I have never understood the Navy’s fondness for C. The air force use the hi-lo with F-22:s and A:s, and they won’t send A:s into harm’s way before F-22 has mopped up and removed the sharpest threats.
    The F-35 was born as a deep striker for god’s sake, hopefully (but I fail to see how) able to “hold its own” in a dogfight. How can it then be top dog on a carrier???

    • riceball

      The F-35 is not meant as a first line defense fighter, it’s meant to replace the legacy 18s in the Navy’s fleet. Put it this way, the Super Hornets replaced the Tomcats in the Navy’s line up but the legcay18s retained their same role but will now be replaced by the 35s. So you’ll have Super Hornet performing first/outer BARCAP for the CBG with the 35s on the inside and it’s likely that both will be doing strike missions as needed as well.

    • Charley A

      I’m not to sure that the Navy is exactly “fond” of the -C. If they had a choice at the time – and they didn’t – its design would have been significantly different.

  • TJRedneck

    As far as the Air Force goes, their F-35 was supposed to be to the F-22 what the F-16 is to the F-15. I think that it is far from it. I still have YET TO SEE how the F-35 (any variant) handles in a dog-fight against ANY other aircraft. The F-16 on the other hand is a great dog-fighter and if anything since the F-35 is supposed to be replacing and better than the F-16, well then let’s see them go up against each other. If it can’t handle the F-16, then that’s it we scrap it.
    For now, we should be building more F-22s, F-15SEs, and F-16Ns and instead of wasting time with the F-35C, upgrade the F-18 similar to the F-15SE. The F-35B is really the only version that should be considered, and instead of throwing Taxpayer $$$ at it, make Lockheed Martin pay for their own development.
    We should also scrap the B-52s except maybe 10, scrap the B-1B and move forward with the B-1R.

  • TJRedneck

    One more thing, NEVER EVER get rid of the A-10 unless you are building an A-10B or A-10-2, whatever you want to call it. There is NO WAY that you can tell me that the F-35 (any variant) can replace the A-10. Personally I would take the A-10, put some more powerful engines on it, a little bit bigger and forward swept wings on it, a little wider fuselage so that it would hold more 30mm rounds, just as starters. Basically improve its firepower, its ability to hang around longer, and its ability to get out faster.

  • Don

    What’s the meaning of the term “Red Stripe?”

    • ward

      That’s the term for what NAVAIR issues to ground an aircraft.

    • Barry

      It’s a brand of Jamaican beer that you’re forced to chug when you make stupid engineering mistakes on the F-35 program, like forgetting the tail hook, forgetting salt water corrosion, forgetting range, forgetting weapons load, forgetting unit cost, forgetting life-cycle cost, forgetting lightning, etc.

  • superraptor

    The F-35 is an unfixable engineering disaster. Have Sequestration and Sec Def Hagel cancel it and rapidly proceed with the FXX program. We already wasted 60 billion on an unfieldable airplane.

  • Warren

    VTOL makes sense for the British that have no large carriers. It makes no sense for the U.S. that has 10-12 in active service. Any VTOL airplane is a waste of U.S. money. It is an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist. This is 2013, not 1943, amphibious landings / assaults are a thing of the past and will never happen again. Our air superiority fighters sweep the sky, our bombers and cruise missiles take out fixed targets, and our troops arrive in Ospreys or Chinooks to clean up. There is zero requirement for an amphibious fighting vehicle or VTOL fighter/bomber.

    Our government is living in the past and paying for it by mortgaging our children’s future.

  • PolicyWonk

    So what happens to the new USS America (LHA-6) class of LHA’s, which were designed based on the assumption that the JSF (B) would be successful? What we’d be stuck with (and the LHA-6/America class is being restricted to only 2 ships of this type) is simply a CV unburdened with either an angled flight deck or catapult (sarcasm intended): in short, a carrier without the features required to be a versatile platform.

    If the B variant is cancelled, maybe that means we’d have to build another batch of Harriers.

  • Vulpine

    Just remember the McArthy days. They tried 50 years ago to make a single airframe serve all four services and with the exception of the F-4 (which was really too big for Navy/Marine service at the time) was an abysmal failure. Why are they trying again? All they’ve done is proven that purpose-built planes for a given mission are superior to planes built as jacks of all trades.

    • Paul Zitoli


      Some corrections to your posting are in order, sir:

      You said “just remember the (Senator) McCarthy days?” No…. The (Secretary of Defense) McNamara days!

      The “single airframe” that you refer to as being an “abysmal failure?” The F-111…which…after resolving its early technical difficulties (as the world’s most complex aircraft of the day) during its first introduction to service in Vietnam, became one of THE best and MOST capable aircraft EVER…and from about 1972 through the end of its service life in the late 90s often performed missions that NO other aircraft could do! I KNOW this FIRST-HAND.

      As for “purpose-built” planes, well…they are NOT a realistic choice from a fiscal, training, and/or logistical-support standpoint! Please CONSIDER those points when deciding what airframes you plan on parking on the tarmac.

      WHAT…may I ask…are YOUR “credentials,” sir? I can only speak for my own experience in USAF active-duty service and as an engineer with a lifetime of aerospace expertise (avionics, guidance/nav/control, and missiles, et al) who is certified by the DoD in acquisition and testing/development of complex systems–you see? As such, I have also without exception been an exemplary steward of the taxpayer dollar.

      Additionally, I am well-studied in the area of military history, and remain ever mindful of the lessons of the past…so as to avoid repeating mistakes. Perhaps some “remedial” study (for you) is in order, yes? Again…Senator Joseph “McCarthy” was on a (communist) witch hunt in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Secretary of Defense (1961-68) Robert McNamara, the head of the “wiz kids,” was a fan of the “one size fits all” philosophy. The F-111 began life in 1962 as the “TFX,” and eventually gestated into an incredibly capable machine which served America very well indeed for a quarter of a century.

      Among the over 3,500 books in my personal library is Robert McNamara’s book “In Retrospect,” an effort to explain his mindset regarding the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam. A nice read, but little comfort at this point. Oh, what could have been….

      Anyway…please accept this post as constructive feedback from a guy who knows first-hand. Peace (through strength, of course).

      • Vulpine

        Quick and simple (since my short essay was deleted even before posting)

        I acknowledge and accept the correction to McNamara; they both had their issues.
        You laud the F-111 and I’ll agree it was a great land-based aircraft; it never succeeded as a carrier-based one. The F-4 was also a compromise that while successful was still marginally capable against purpose-built aircraft built only 5 years later, like the F-5. I also believe the F-5-derived F-20 Tigershark would have been a superior light fighter than even the F-16 turned out to be, though the “cranked-arrow” F-16 would have been better yet.

        My experience is also from years in the Air Force–including one full enlistment term as an instructor at Lowry. I will admit I don’t keep a huge library of military history, but I do have a fair collection of books, primarily centered around air combat.

    • Godzilla

      IMO the problem of the F-111 was not it being a multiple service aircraft since the F-4 Phantom clearly showed such an airplane was possible. The problems IMO were trying to integrate what was essentially the first variable geometry fighter in service with dimensions that rivaled a lot of bombers at the time. IMO the design was overly led by USAF requirements which in the end made it too large and heavy for the USN.

      Without the variable geometry wings and a slightly smaller size it would have been doable. However it would not have ended up being the great long range bomb truck it did develop into after all the bugs got fixed. The F-14 also showed the original vision was possible had the design been done over again.

      Most of the expense in developing an aircraft is in the engines, radar, electronics. I do not understand the fascination into making all the F-35 versions have similar airframes. I also bet the Navy would feel safer with a twin-engine aircraft although they have had single-engine jets in service before.

  • Brandon

    Well one positive way to look at this is if they were satisfied with the fuel consumption rate before, they will be delighted to know they could get even more range out of it when they fix this little bugger of an issue.

  • Hornet Guy

    CORRECTION: Mr. Carroll’s NAV BAG was a 3-time lightning strike vet. Also, how many traps does your nav bag have?

    • ward

      Good one, Hornet Guy. That would make a great focsle follies skit too.

  • Barry

    Why else do you think they called it the LIGHTNING?

  • milad

    lol this grounded aircraft are going to defence from iran’s fire power!? !!

  • Robert Fritts

    I wonder how far in(Dollars or Pounds) is the UK MOD into the JSF? Flight Global reported in 2006 that Yak said it could jump start it’s Yak-41 project, in Italy, with Israeli engineers & Western Electronics, for 250 million Euros start up capital. Since Flight Global is one or two steps above the National Inquirer it got me thinking. How much would a modern 4.5+ generation VSTOL fighter run minus stealth?

  • Gruntz
  • badrivet

    The way I see it were stuck. The F-35 has been mortgaged to too many international partners. I keep hearing Britain, but most of Europe is onboard including Turkey. The defense dept. probably would love to cancel it, but with the international partners building all the subcontracted assemblies for it, the feedback would be defining. I Feel this is why Lockheed is getting away with their bussiness as usual mega cost overruns.

  • SFP

    Keep saying keep the C or B scrap the problem prone B before it kills the whole program.