Concerns about the F-35's combat efficacy may have been overblown.
Earlier this month,
- "objectionable or unacceptable flying qualities"
- Plane parts failing at accelerated rates
- Wings incapable of carrying the bomb loads to which they were assigned
- Planes literally shaking themselves apart in flight
There were 276 "critical" deficiencies in all, rendering it unlikely the F-35 would achieve even "Initial Operational Test and Evaluation" status before 2019. And yet, earlier this month, this very same F-35 fighter jet participated in the U.S. Air Force's "Red Flag" war games at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada -- and it flew just fine.
Lockheed Martin's F-35 is flying high after four victorious weeks in Nevada. Image source: Lockheed Martin.
Red storm rising
Actually, more than fine. Superbly. As reported by
The result: The F-35s achieved a 15-to-1 "kill ratio," shooting down 15 bad guys for every F-35 that got splashed.
Moreover, in addition to proving itself a formidable aerial combatant, the F-35 served as a force multiplier for its allies.
As Lt. Col. Dave DeAngelis, commander of the 419th operations group, explained, F-35s sortied alongside allied EA-18G Growlers, F-15C, F-16, F-22, British Typhoon fighters, B-1 bombers, and Australian airborne early warning and control craft. Using their advanced digital communications systems, "the F-35 was able to share one threat picture across 70 aircraft" simultaneously, giving its allies a clearer picture of the dogfight than they'd have been able to obtain on their own, and as a result, enhancing the Blue forces' fighting ability as a whole.
Indeed, despite all the complaints that DTO&E raised about the quality of Lockheed's software, 34th Fighter Squadron commander Lt. Col. George Watkins insisted that "all our mission systems were up every time." If given the option of flying a fifth-generation F-35 into combat, or taking in an older fourth generation F-16, Watkins was categorical: "I would not want to go back and take an F-16 back into Red Flag."
What it means to investors
Could it be that reports of the F-35's death have been greatly exaggerated? Judging from the nearly unanimous praise that Lockheed's F-35 is garnering in the aftermath of Red Flag, it sure looks like it.
And reports of the F-35's remarkable 15-to-1 kill ratio, combined with praise from the pilots who flew it, could give Lockheed Martin ammunition in future
Probably not. Moreover, Lockheed Martin
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