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Delivery of F-35, Marines deserve better than a wooden rifle

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 28th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) has taken delivery of its first operational F-35B, Joint  Strike Fighter (JSF). Unfortunately, the aircraft is beset by so many troubles the Marines cannot use it for combat.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In the early days of World War II, the German U-boat fleets suffered with defective torpedoes. U-boat aces fired salvo after salvo, only to see their well aimed torpedoes miss, or explode early, alerting allied destroyer escorts.

Arguing with his commander, U-boat captain Wolfgang Luth asked, "How can I be expected to fight a war with a wooden rifle?"

The USMC now has a wooden rifle, and a very expensive one at that. Each F-35B costs over $200 million. However, the aircraft are unsuitable for combat because of extensive technical difficulties and backlogged work.

Although delivered, the F-35 will not be combat ready until at least 2015.

For example, the aircraft is designed to pair with a special, super high-tech helmet. The helmet features a streaming video visor display that allows the pilot to see what is around the plane in all directions. Essentially, it allows him or her to see the enemy, even through the floor of the cockpit.

The problem is that the helmet display suffers from lag, which is a temporary delay in the display of the information. In a split-second decision situation, the lag could prove fatal. Lag is considered a bane in the online gaming world, causing players of video games great frustration. Imagine now, how serious lag becomes when life, death, and hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line.

Also significant, is that the software the system uses consists of some 24 million lines of code, most of which still requires checking.

The aircraft also requires extensive testing of its weapons capability. Only recently did the F-35 complete a test where it dropped a bomb for the first time. The tests matter because the plane carries its weapons inside its body, a requirement to maintain its stealthy nature. To deploy a weapon, the F-35 opens a bay door, releases its weapon, then closes the door, all within a few seconds. During the time the door is open, the aircraft is more vulnerable to radar detection. This system must work flawlessly to minimize operational risk and therefore requires much more testing.

In addition to the testing, the Navy has already spent millions on new facilities to house and maintain the aircraft. Among the procured items are two new aircraft carriers that are being designed to handle the advanced fighter.

There is little doubt the Marines need the new plane. Most of the USMC's aircraft in service are showing signs of age and the well-worn F-18s and AV8B Harriers are approaching the end of their operational lifespans. Unfortunately, there are several issues that remain to be grappled with.

First, the military-industrial complex continues to consume billions in taxpayer dollars, and is openly delivering  a non-combat serviceable platform to the USMC. In a time of growing fiscal austerity, this is not an affordable luxury.

Second, the Marines both need, and mightily deserve operational equipment that will ensure they can succeed in their missions without unduly jeopardizing their lives. They should not be handed wooden rifles. That's not what Marines are for.

The hymn, "The Halls of Montezuma" tells us the streets of heaven are guarded by United States Marines. For the work they do, they deserve better.

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