McCain Questions F-35 Operability, Marines Provide Cover

Last week, Senator John McCain, in his role as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned the U.S. Marine Corps’ declaration that the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), based in Yuma, Arizona, has reached initial operational capability with the F-35B Lightning II aircraft. According to sources, the F-35 currently only has 20 percent of the full intended capability, so now even the definition of operational capability is in question.

However, given the fact that the “Marine’s F-35B order only represents about 14% of the DoD’s total F-35 buy, yet the other 86% of aircraft will handicapped by the F-35B’s unique design requirements, according to Tyler Rogoway writing for FoxTrotAlpha, the Marines have to celebrate even the most modest achievement as a milestone.

That might explain why McCain appeared to be very careful to commend the Marines for achieving “initial” operational capability.

“However, I remain concerned about the capability and reliability this aircraft,” stated McCain. “As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will continue to do everything I can to make sure that our military improves aircraft reliability and maintenance, software development and integration, and weapons capabilities and integration.”

“The Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons system in history, and we must learn the lessons of past failures to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and American aviators can safely and effectively perform their missions. We owe them nothing less.”

Currently they have gotten much less in the form of the F-35, according to an article, Leaked F-35 Report Confirms Serious Air Combat Deficiencies,  by Dan Grazier and Mandy Smithberger.

Grazier and Smithberger report on a newly leaked test, in which “evidence that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s demonstrated performance is inferior to the current fighters it is designed to replace.”

“An F-35A test pilot with extensive dogfighting experience in F-16s and F-15s wrote the report, detailing his cockpit observations during the January 2015 maneuvering combat tests of the F-35 against a 30-year-old F-16 at Edwards Flight Test Center in California. The report, marked for official use only (FOUO), highlighted serious concerns about the plane’s performance in this key mission,” according to Grazier and Smithberger’s article.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. (ret.) Grazier, the Jack Shanahan Fellow with the Straus Military Reform Project told the ADI, “This test report proves the problems with the F-35 program are fundamental and systemic. F-35 advocates promised it would be at least as maneuverable as the current fighters. If they were wrong about that, why should we believe what they say about the F-35’s ability to replace other aircraft like the A-10?”

We shouldn’t.

The USAF has been willing to sink to the lowest depths to mothball the venerable A-10 and rid itself of the Close Air Support (CAS) mission it despises.

The USAF’s Operation Destroy CAS campaign reached its lowest point when it planted an article in USAToday, in which Tom Vanden Brook forwarded the myth that the A-10 warplane tops list for friendly fire deaths.

At the time the propaganda came out, Tony Carr, winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross and publisher of the popular military blog, John Q. Public, described the article described the USAToday piece as a “lamentable piece of journalism.” He charged Vanden Brook with “unwittingly advancing a despicable bundle of lies on behalf of the unnamed officials who made him their message mule.”

In response to the firestorm that followed Vanden Brook’s piece, Senator Kelly Ayotte, a staunch advocate for the A-10, issued a statement: “Every death of an American or allied service member or an innocent civilian is a heart-breaking tragedy. No aircraft that conducts close air support missions — which by definition involve the close proximity of friendly and enemy forces — is immune from fratricide. But as our ground troops and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers will tell you, the unique CAS capabilities of the A-10 have saved hundreds of American lives.”

But the whole discussion is not about saving lives. For the Marines it is about saving face and for all other F-35 supporters it is about saving lucrative government contracts.

In the end, those contracts will total nearly $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000) according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Mandy Smithberger wrote of the scathing GAO report, which was issued in April, in response to Congressional demands: “GAO’s findings—along with the growing litany of problems identified by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, the manufacturing challenges for the program’s contractors, and the growing scheduled costs for increased production of combat incapable aircraft—present a compelling case, even for Congress, to reduce F-35 production in 2016.”

The Marine’s decision to tout the marginal initial operational capability has something of monumental importance demonstrates clearly that F-35 production will not slow, unless Congress demands it.

With F-35s in his home state, and McCain facing a tough primary, he will continue to question the efficacy of the F-35, but will not dare do anything to really put its future at stake. Just like he did with GM and Goldman Sacs, he can be expected to sell the F-35 as too big to fail.  Unlike the claim he made about the bailout; “that he only voted for the $700 billion package because Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke misled him, by assuring him it would focus on the housing meltdown, rather than on Wall Street,” he can’t find someone to blame. He can however, hide behind big, bad Marines and that is always a pretty safe place to be.