On March 12 the editorial board of the NY Times published “The Fighter Jet That's Too Pricey to Fail.” (It is at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/12/opinion/f-35-fighter-jet-cost.html.)
It s a pathetic piece of work: riddled with factual errors, foolish – but trendy – judgments, and a conclusion is poorly supported by its own text.
On Monday, March 15, I sent the editorial board a letter of response. I have waited the week they request to have exclusive publication rights. Having received no substantive response, it is clear they decline to publish my letter.
Note below the ready access the NYT editorial board had to more accurate data from the Pentagon and from far more conscientious analysts, journalists and experts than the misdirecting hacks who supplied the editorial board with its un-fact-checked information.
It is conventional wisdom to note the depths to which the New York Times has fallen from its past perch of journalistic competence and objective research and informed commentary. This exchange, I believe, shows an example.
I read with astonishment your March 12 editorial on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It is riddled with factual errors and silly judgments before it comes to your poorly supported conclusions.
Keeping things short, note the following factual errors and links to readily available accurate documentation:
- The F-35 is not “at least three years behind schedule,” it is at least ten years behind schedule according to its own Selected Acquisition Report, one of many definitive Pentagon documents on this question.
- The cost per flight hour is not “around $36,000;” it is more like $44,000 per hour as reported frequently. But more importantly, the last official data released by the Air Force for its version (the other versions are more complex and expensive to fly) was for fiscal year 2016 (hard copy available), but the Air Force has refused to release more recent data. One can only surmise why.
- The cost of the program is not “$1 trillion over its 60 year lifespan” but $1.727 trillion: this is according to DOD’s office of Capability Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), as reported by Bloomberg last September by a journalist well known for his accurate and reliable DOD sources.
- The “cutting edge helmet” is far from how you characterize it: “took a while to get right”. It continues to misrepresent or obscure the outside world to the pilot as reported by DOD’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation
- The cost of an operable F-35A (the cheapest one) is not “below $80 million.” That’s DOD’s very incomplete “fly away” cost, which – by the way – results in an aircraft you literally cannot fly. If you want one you can actually operate, you need to serve up $110.3 million for a 2020 model.
One can go on; readers will get the point.
One of your more silly judgments is embedded in the assertion that the F-35 now exists in “a world whose geopolitics and military challenges were far different than those for which it was conceived.” It is true that such assertions are common today, but please let us know when we will no longer need an aircraft to shoot down enemy planes and hit targets on the ground. These characteristics are badly needed; unfortunately, the F-35 does a lousy job at either the few times it is able to get into the sky to do so. Well researched writing on this is readily available to you; you ignored it.
One can as easily attack your conclusions, but let’s just leave it that your basic assertions about the F-35 are so poorly grounded that your conclusions do not merit serious consideration.
Winslow T. Wheeler
(I spent 30 years working for Republican and Democratic Senators and the GAO on national security issues and then 13 years at the Center for Defense Information in Washington. See more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winslow_T._Wheeler and https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/02/winslow-wheeler-114795/.)