Have the armchair F-35 critics got it all wrong?

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (Lightning II) programme has been one of the most controversial defence projects of all time. The decision to abandon CATOBAR for the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers means their credibility rests largely with the effectiveness of the F-35B Lighting II. Born in the internet age where critics can spread negativity in a few clicks, (guilty your honour) the overwhelming public and media perception of the F-35 is of an expensive disaster. Those who dare to champion the aircraft, or are at least willing to give it a chance are ignored, written off as establishment stooges or seen as part of a sinister conspiracy.

The high priest of F-35 critics is one Pierre Sprey, a former Pentagon defence analyst who had input into the F-15 and F-16 projects in the 1970s (but is not the ‘aircraft designer’ he claims). For several years Save the Royal Navy has been in search of objective truth about the aircraft and has been in conversation with former & serving naval aviators as well as defence commentators with a diverse range of knowledge and experience. Opinion remains divided but as the video points out, some (not all) of the sound principals fighter pilots and aerospace engineers would have applied in the 1970 or 80s have become somewhat irrelevant in the 21st Century. In reality it is only the pilots and engineers working on the aircraft today who can make a reliable assessment. Much of the aircraft’s potential capability (and drawbacks) may only be revealed by future testing and frontline experience.

If you suggest the F-35 has the potential to be a great success you may be accused of “working for Lockheed Martin” or in some way part of the military/industrial complex with career or financial prospects that depend on it. It is much easier to be highly critical of the project and there is plenty of evidence that there are significant problems. However virtually all military aircraft projects suffer development issues. The very ambitious goals of the F-35 have magnified the difficulties, even though they are to be expected and have been solved in many cases. Everyone will agree it is over-budget and delayed, but then that could be said about many large US and UK defence projects in the last 3 decades. The sheer scale and cost of the project makes it a very fat target. Often labelled the “1 Trillion dollar airplane”, it should be pointed out that to maintain or update all the aircraft in the US inventory that the F-35 will replace, has been estimated at 4 Trillion dollars.

If you ignore the angry teenager name, the “Coalition against Bullshit” video provides and excellent history of the project. It then goes on to dismantle many of Sprey’s wildly inaccurate criticisms, which have been widely quoted and believed in the media and online.

The video is nearly 2 hours long, so if you’re sitting comfortably, try to watch with an open mind. You may begin to feel more optimistic that despite a very turbulent journey, the RN is about to get a highly potent weapon to put to sea in the near future.

The video in 3-parts below also refutes many F35 myths in a shorter, more digestible form.


And as a final thought… if you need any further evidence the F-35 might not be so bad after all, Donald Trump hates it and wants to axe it…

So where do you stand on the F-35 opinion-ometer? (Click for larger version)

F35 Spectrum of opinion

*This is just for fun and an entirely non-scientific survey that may not precisely represent the opinions of these individuals and organisations. Updated 2016 .