U.S. Air Force Requires Airmen to Praise Troubled Stealth Fighter
Public affairs guidance demands F-35 plaudits
In an eight-page document marked “not for public release,” the U.S. Air Force commands its airmen to say positive things about Lockheed Martin’s problem-prone F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
“Articulate the capabilities of the aircraft and explain it is a capability warfighters must have (explain why we need the F-35),” the self-described public affairs “guidance” demands.
The document is circulating at a critical time for the 20-year, $400-billion effort to develop and build as many as 2,400 F-35s for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps plus hundreds more for foreign air arms.
In late July, we published a scathing internal Air Force memo detailing the complex, overweight F-35’s repeated defeats in mock dogfights with a much older F-16, one of the planes the JSF is supposed to replace.
A few weeks later, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the head of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, admitted that the heavy, single-engine F-35 is not maneuverable — this despite the Air Force and Lockheed repeatedly promising that the JSF would at least match planes such as the F-16 in air-to-air combat.
The F-35 has also suffered engine fires and problems with its sensors and software. The JSF is years behind schedule and each plane costs tens of millions of dollars more than the government originally promised.
“Debunk false narratives and inaccuracies reflected in news media reporting,” the public affairs document orders, and goes on to specifically mention the dogfight report we published in July.
“The F-35 is designed to be comparable to current tactical fighters in terms of maneuverability, but the design is optimized for stealth and sensor superiority,” the document claims. “News reports on the F-35’s performance against an F-16 was an early look at the F-35’s flight control authority software logic, and not an assessment of its ability in a dogfight situation.”
That’s not true. “The evaluation focused on the overall effectiveness of the aircraft in performing various specified maneuvers in a dynamic environment,” wrote the F-35 test pilot in the mock dogfight with the F-16. The tester specifically complained about the JSF’s energy-inefficient design, which tweaks to software can’t fix.
“The F-35 was at a distinct energy disadvantage,” thus limiting its ability to dogfight, the pilot explained.