…he thinks the F-35 is actually invisible.
Oh, sorry – for you non-defence geeks out there amid my hypothetical readership, the F-35 is the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter, dubbed “Lightning II”, a single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft designed to fulfill almost all of the tactical needs of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps into the foreseeable future. It may be the last combat aircraft ever designed to be flown exclusively by a human pilot. It’s also pretty much the most ambitious, and thus the most expensive, weapons system program in history, and it’s been plagued by cost overruns, technical challenges, and delays the like of which were completely predictable (and were predicted, by myself and many others). In the result it’s all but devouring the US defence budget. The F-35 program is so important, both to the US military and to many allies throughout Europe, Asia and elsewhere, including maybe Canada one day, that it’s been pinned with the “too big to fail” label, which is fair, since no amount of developmental difficulties has been, or can be, allowed to scuttle the program. The sunk costs are too great, and there’s really no plausible alternative, though argument among the fan boys and pundits rages on this score.
It’s an advanced and potent-looking beast, for what that’s worth:
A key attribute of the design, considered de rigueur for all combat aircraft going forward, is an extreme degree of stealth, that is, resistance to radar detection. Just how stealthy they’ve managed to make the new fighter is of course classified, but public sources put it at about the same level of detectability as a large bumble bee, which, believe it or not, does not render it undetectable to the powerful radars it’s apt to encounter if it ever comes to conflict with a “peer state” like Russia or China. It does, however, drastically curtail the range at which it can be seen by those enemy radars, allowing it to locate and pick its way around defences undetected, and to be the first to get in a shot against more conventional foes – it can see enemy aircraft and ground targets with its myriad sensors long before being seen. It is thus sometimes described, as was its F-117 predecessor of Desert Storm fame, as “invisible to radar”, an exaggeration of the sort that tends to catch on with the media. It’s a punchier turn of phrase than, say, “practically undetectable to the current generation of sensors at the ranges at which prior fighters could reliably be tracked by most radars, especially those operating in the X-band favoured by the majority of airborne systems”.
It’s only to be expected that Donald J. Trump, Idiot at Large, would have absorbed the “invisible” hyperbole. What’s really startling, even for those of us who believe that he’s probably the stupidest person ever to gain public prominence in any field, is that Donald seems actually to believe that the F-35 really is invisible, literally – that it can’t be seen by the naked eye. His public pronouncements are difficult to interpret in any other way:
With the Air Force we’re ordering a lot of planes, in particular the F-35 fighter jet, which is almost you know like an invisible fighter. I was asking the Air Force guys how good is this plane, and they said ‘well sir you can’t see it,’ I said yeah but in a fight, you know a fight, like I watch on the movies, the fight, they’re fighting, how good is it? ‘Well it wins every time because the enemy cannot see it, even if it’s right next to it, it can’t see it.’ I said that helps, that’s a good thing.
Amazing job. So amazing we are ordering hundreds of millions of dollars of new airplanes for the air force, especially the F-35. You like the F-35? … You can’t see it. You literally can’t see it. It’s hard to fight a plane you can’t see.
He just repeated the thought during his most recent press event, when ushering Marillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed Martin, to the podium – having introduced her as “Marillyn Lockheed“, while billing her, in his Trumpian way, as “the leading woman’s business executive in this country, according to many”:
We buy billions and billions of dollars worth of that beautiful F-35. It’s stealth. You cannot see it. Is that correct – better be correct, right?
“That’s correct” said Hewson, perhaps realizing it was futile to try to school The Donald under any circumstances, let alone in the middle of a press event at which she’s supposed to make only a few brief remarks. Have a gander:
I know, this may seem a little thing, but oy – what a moron. What else does he believe about America’s military capabilities, one wonders? We know he thinks he’s already strengthened the US armed forces generally, a project that would take many years of steady budgets and sustained procurement. We know he thinks that currently-deployed missile defence systems could actually defeat an attack by North Korean ICBMs, to the tune of a better than 95% certainty, when actually the results from carefully controlled tests conducted under favourable conditions make it more like 50/50, at best. We know he once thought he had a naval “armada” sailing for the Korean coast, when actually the carrier battle group in question was navigating merrily in the opposite direction, towards the waters off Indonesia and Australia.
We also know that this paragon of magical thinking is about to come under the sway of a new National Security Advisor who never saw a foreign relations problem he couldn’t solve with a good old-fashioned application of devastating military force. A guy who believes that the US military should impose regime change on Iran and North Korea. A guy so nutty that I was taking this article seriously last night, reading it with mounting horror, before realizing I’d stumbled into the Onion:
The danger is that Trump will believe anything John Bolton tells him about the utility of force. After all, it does seem that Mr Fire and Fury likes the idea of smashing things, with conventional arms, nukes, whatever works. Maybe he’ll eat Bolton’s bullshit with a bib on. I’m trying to remain calm and collected, I really am. You should go ahead and freak out, though.