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Updating Expectations of the F-35


I am once again asking progressives to update their understanding of the F-35 project:

Beset by technological and procurement difficulties for much of its history, the F-35 “Panther” is seeing serious procurement success. Some 730 F-35s have entered service with 14 military services across 10 countries, with 5 more countries awaiting delivery. Two high-profile customers have decided to acquire the F-35 over the last year. The first was Switzerland, which agreed to purchase 36 F-35s in order to replace a fleet of antiquated F-5s and middle-aged F/A-18s.  Switzerland had previously come to terms with Saab to purchase Gripen fighters, but a 2014 referendum on the deal failed to gain a majority. The second customer was Finland, which agreed to purchase 64 F-35s to replace its existing inventory of F/A-18s.  We have an unusual amount of detail regarding Finland’s decision to acquire the Panther, which rested on combat capability, battlespace management, and survivability.

Let’s be utterly clear: It is reasonable to doubt whether investment in a manned fighter aircraft at this late date in human history is altogether sensible as a military procurement policy. It is extremely reasonable to doubt the size and extent of the defense budget, of which the F-35 is an enormous component. It is no longer reasonable to declare that the F-35 is an overpriced failure because it can’t dogfight or some such bullshit, and unfortunately the latter claim is what we commonly see from progressive think tanks, where the standard operating procedure is to dig up some fighter mafia adjacent fossil to link to cost estimates from 2012 and whinge about how the F-35 isn’t an F-16A. This authoritative debunking will then be echoed by thousands of folks who can’t tell an F-35 from an F-4 and who read somewhere in 2009 that the plane can’t fly in the rain.

You can tell I have issues.

Switzerland and Finland weren’t bullied into buying the F-35; they evaluated its capabilities compared to other available aircraft, and it lapped the competition. This is unsurprising from an aircraft that is much newer but at effectively the same price point as its major counterparts. The Trudeau government continues to tie itself into knots regarding the F-35 because it knows that in any faintly fair competition the F-35 will win, which will make Trudeau look like an idiot. Given that *all* of Canada’s major military partners fly the F-35 or will do so shortly, buying anything else would be procurement malpractice.

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