Unveiling the Realities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: A Comprehensive Analysis (2023)


The recent call by Congressman Adam Smith to end funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has ignited a debate on the efficacy and practicality of such a decision. While concerns over the F-35's performance and cost are raised, the feasibility of halting funding and pursuing alternative fighter jets is a complex matter that demands a closer examination.

Congressman Smith's Perspective

In a webcast with the Brookings Institution, Congressman Smith expressed dissatisfaction with the F-35, labeling it a "rathole" due to its perceived inefficiencies and exorbitant costs. He highlighted the sustainment costs as "brutal" and proposed diverting investments towards a diverse range of fighter jets.

F-35 Program Challenges

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, designed to replace various existing fighter jets across different branches of the military, faced extensive delays and ongoing issues. Delving into the nuances, all three models - the Air Force's -A, the Marine Corps's -B, and the Navy's and Marines' -C - experienced significant delays in entering service, raising concerns about readiness and high operational costs.

The Alleged "Rathole"

Smith's characterization of the F-35 as a "rathole" aligns with recent allegations of its failure to deliver an effective and affordable fighter jet. The U.S. Air Force's exploration of a new, cost-effective fighter jet adds fuel to the argument, suggesting a potential alternative to the F-35.

Too Big to Fail?

Despite its documented problems, declaring the F-35 program a failure may oversimplify a more intricate reality. The program's sheer scale and the absence of credible alternatives for many older planes pose a dilemma. Walking away would necessitate designing and building multiple alternative jets, a financially daunting prospect given the constraints of the defense budget.

The Realistic Path Forward

Acknowledging the challenges, living with the F-35 appears to be the only realistic course of action for the U.S. and its allies. Key objectives include enhancing the plane's capabilities, addressing cost concerns, and upgrading older jets. The Pentagon's imperative task is to reduce the cost-per-flight hour to $25,000 by 2025, ensuring the F-35's affordability for sustained operational use.

The Stealth Factor

While exploring alternatives like the F-16V, F-15EX, and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block III is possible, the crucial element of stealth cannot be overlooked. In the modern aerial battlefield, radar-evading qualities embedded in the aircraft are deemed essential, emphasizing the irreplaceable role of the F-35.


In conclusion, the debate surrounding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is multifaceted. Congressman Smith's call to end funding raises valid concerns, but the intricate web of challenges, program scale, and the absence of immediate alternatives paint a more nuanced picture. As the Pentagon grapples with the imperative to make the F-35 program successful, it becomes evident that living with its complexities is the pragmatic path forward. The future demands not just resolution of existing issues but a commitment to never replicate the challenges posed by such an ambitious fighter jet program.

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