When your grandchildren see F-35 fighter jets streaking through the skies above our fair country, probably at air shows and hopefully not because we are conducting air strikes on our own soil, I want you to point up at the passing aircraft, and after the screaming of the engine subsides you can say to your grandkid: "there's a button, somewhere inside the cockpit of that aircraft, and my entire life's tax contributions paid for it." You and your progeny's progeny will walk amongst mothballed fighter planes throughout the air show: F-16s, A-10s, A-7s, FA-18s, F-15s, and a host of non-fighter aircraft. Each was manufactured by a different company. Each was retired so that Lockheed-Martin's F-35 could monopolize American airspace. Of course, if the government had quietly retired cars made by GM, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota, Kia, and Hyundai so that American roads would be driven by nothing but Fords...the public outcry would have been incredible. Imagine people forced to buy Ford cars, Ford pickups, Ford vans, Ford SUVs. Now imagine Ford ratcheted up the price 250% on every vehicle. your $30,000 Ford Escape is now $75,000. The calls for a Justice Department investigation would be far and wide. People would demand the monopoly be broken. There'd be calls to tar, feather, and hang Ford executives. And then, if the government responded by increasing their support for Ford...well I can imagine that wouldn't go well for elected officials. Bastille storming: commence.
But somehow Lockheed is doing essentially that. They're "obsoleting" every competitor plane in the name of increasing government efficiency and decreasing tax payer costs while simultaneously increasing tax payer costs and decreasing government efficiency. And because they have branch locations in over 100 Congressional districts, because they have subcontractors scattered strategically in almost every state...they strong-arm Congressional and DoD leadership into following their orders, and white-washing the program's poor results.
It is now estimated that the "Joint Strike Fighter" will cost over a trillion dollars. For comparison, the entire Apollo space program, including 6 moon landings, cost a paltry $150 billion. That is, we achieved the single greatest technological event in human history - we shot men millions of miles into space, they walked on a non-terrestrial surface, played golf even, and returned home safely - in a government run program in 9 years...but it has taken a private company 16 years and counting (and $400 billion and counting) to not yet achieve a mission-ready fighter plane.
Meanwhile, the UAVs get smarter, faster, and deadlier. In the time since the F-35 programs inception, UAVs have gone from conjecture to practice to stealth, lethal assassins remotely controlled from a continent or two away. Their flight capabilities are superior to fighter planes because there is no human inside subjected to g-forces. They can stay aloft longer than a human bladder could ever stand. UAV recon planes can refuel with almost no assistance from humans. Unmanned fuel tankers are only a few years away, at which point an entire ecosystem of unmanned aerial vehicles will be complete.
Does anyone really think we'll need the F-35 in another 16 years? Calls for human creativity in flight are patently absurd: I have yet to beat my cell phone at the 'Connect 4' app I downloaded; sophisticated computers will win dogfights. Or they'll just fight with other sophisticated computers until the fuel runs out.
One summer, when I was a kid, I was having "super soaker wars" with the neighborhood kids. I had a Super Soaker 1000, a lethal soaking machine in the neighborhood arms race. We would run around for a while, soaking each other, pretending to be commandos. On some days we would trade weapons for the hell of it. One day we'd been playing for a couple hours, everyone was pretty tired. A kid named Jon had recently gotten a water balloon slingshot, and he'd hooked it to his swingset and would lob balloons across the yards at us. It was a brilliant innovation, because he was behind a fence and completely protected. Trying to reach him with a super soaker meant scaling the fence with the full wrath of his water balloon slingshot a mere 20 feet away. And so we were all soaked, tired, and ready to go in for popsicles when Dan showed up with a Super Soaker 300. The thing was a monster of a water gun...backpack tank, super-high-pressure air, lever-action handle. Dan rumbled around the backyards, aiming at us as we'd scamper out of the way. Then a water balloon (that must have been traveling close to supersonic) came flying in and hit Dan right in the side of the head. He burst into tears an went home. The rest of us did too.
That ended the super soaker wars, then and there. Dan had spent a small fortune on his SS300, but it was obsolete. The warfare had changed to Nerf.
If it isn't obvious, Jon's water balloon launcher here represents UAVs: remotely controlled from a safe point. Fast and deadly when used accurately. Jon's aim had improved significantly by the time the super soaker wars ended. Dan's SS300 was the F-35. A complex, expensive, super powerful weapon that arrived just as the party was ending.
There is another scenario here. You're at the air show with your grandchild. The deadly, alien-looking UAVs fly quietly overhead in a flawless formation. They perform incredibly dangerous stunts with perfection, but the crowd yawns because without the risk of human death, watching two planes fly right past each other and narrowly avoid a head on collision is boring. Each UAV costs only a couple million to build and maintain. After the UAV show gets boring, you and your progeny's progeny walk amongst mothballed F-35s and you laugh bitterly that your entire life's tax contribution paid for a single button in the cockpit of a trillion dollar paperweight. You laugh bitterly because you spent your entire life paying taxes that went directly into the pockets of Lockheed-Martin, and Lockheed-Martin gave you nothing in return except a deep understanding of just how government corruption works.
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