Monday, January 27, 2014

The Usual Suspects.

Best performance ever from a non-Alec Baldwin brother.
Do a Google (or even Bing) search for news about various fighter jets, especially the F-35, and you will see that certain names pop up fairly often.  Sometimes you know exactly what the article is going to be like just by examining the names involved.  Certain authors will wax poetic about a subject, while another will scream that the emperor's naughty bits are showing.

As much as writers (or anybody else) would hate to admit it, we all have biases.  Nobody is truly objective.  One way or another, we are all swayed by our experiences, and by what resources we have at hand.    This is nothing to be ashamed of, it is simply a part of the human condition.  What is important, however, is that those biases be freely examined.

So let's look at some familiar faces and names involved in Canada's fighter jet procurement, shall we?

Billie Flynn

Lockheed Martin's Canadian poster boy.
Billie Flynn is possibly Lockheed Martin's "go to" guy when it comes to Canada's F-35 selection.  This former RCAF Lt. Colonel's resume reads like an alphabet soup of "M. Eng"s and "MBA"s and the like.  He's flown the F-35, CF-18, F-16, Typhoon, Tornado, F-4, and countless others.  The guy's even married to a genuine astronaut who happens to have a school named after her.

There is little question why Lockheed Martin has made Billie Flynn its CF-35 poster boy.

But then he opens his mouth...

I've given Flynn flak before for comparing wartime to playtime.  His comment that Canada "will not be allowed to play unless you have the same capability as everyone else" seriously upset me.  Not only does it equate NATO with some sort of snobby country club, but it also suggest that participating  in military action is privilege, not something done because there is little other choice.

Flynn has also been called out by his fellow fighter pilots for stating that the F-35's flight performance was superior to jets like the Typhoon.  Given the F-35's publicized performance downgrades, this statement was a little hard to swallow.

Billie Flynn is undoubtedly a capable and well educated pilot.  He is also a Lockheed Martin employee.  I would no more expect him to make a disparaging comment than I would Lockheed vice-president Steve O'Bryan, another former F/A-18 pilot.  Their first duty is to the shareholders of Lockheed Martin.



Loren Thompson

Loren Thompson does his best "Baghdad Bob" impersonation.

At first glance, Loren Thompson appears to be nothing more than the COO of a think tank known as the "Lexington Institute".  Pro-military and right leaning, the Lexington Institute offers plenty of advice on foreign policy and military procurement.  Mr. Thompson himself is quite the fan of the F-35, and often pens glowing praise for the the JSF program.  He often makes counter-points when bad news about the stealth fighter surfaces.  Fair enough.

The trouble is, Loren Thompson's Lexington Institute is hardly the unbiased "nonprofit" organization it states itself to be.  For one, it was founded by a former Congressman who turned Lockheed Martin lobbyist.  It has also been derided as "the defense industry's pay-to-play ad agency".  Mr. Thompson himself said the following.
I'm not going to work on a project unless somebody, somewhere, is willing to pay. This is a business.
Not only is Mr. Thompson a COO of the "not-for-profit" Lexington Institute, but he is also the CEO of the for-profit Source Associates defense consulting firm.  Neither organization lists its donors or clients, other than the fact that Boeing and Lockheed are know contributors to Lexington.  It's not hard to put 2 and 2 together on that one.

How shameless is Mr. Thompson's praise of Lockheed Martin?  It goes far behind plugging the F-35. It goes beyond writing breathless praise for LockMart's senior executive.  No, Loren Thompson goes so far as to suggest that Lockheed Martin should get as much credit as Seal Team Six for nabbing Osama Bin Laden.  Because making millions off of building war machines and risking your life to capture the world's most infamous terrorist is the same thing, apparently.

Let's switch from JSF supporters to JSF critics.  Have you ever read a brutal take-down of the F-35?  Chances are, it was either written by, or quotes from these guys:

Winslow Wheeler

Winslow Wheeler.  Apparently he likes books on war and tanks.
With articles like:  "The Jet That Ate the Pentagon" and "The New Era of Good F-35 Feelings", there is little doubt that Winslow Wheeler isn't a fan of the F-35.   

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), the organization Mr. Wheeler works for, investigates government corruption and overspending.  It made a name for itself in the 80s when it brought to light gross overspending by the US military for mundane items such as toilet seats ($640), hammers ($436), and coffee makers ($7,400).

Wheeler is also the director of the Center for Defense Initiative (CDI) think tank's Strauss Military Reform Project.  CDI has been criticized for its left-leaning "pacifist" tendencies, often speaking out against any new weapon system.  CDI merged with POGO in 2012.

Prior to his career at POGO, Wheeler was on staff for the US Senate, where he worked for both Democrat and Republicans (the first and only staffer to do so).  He also worked for the Government Accountability Office.  Wheeler was the the very example of a "government insider".  He has since gone on to publish several books and essays about the muddled US military.

Pierre Sprey

Pierre Sprey, fighter mafioso.

The A-10.  The F-16.  Kanye West.  They all owe part of their success to Pierre Sprey.
Sprey was an aircraft designer who worked alongside legendary pilot and tactician John Boyd as part of the Pentagon's "Fighter Mafia".  The Fighter Mafia was adamant that the heavy, complicated, and clumsy jets of Vietnam were too ineffective, and that newer fighter jets should go back to basic dogfight tactics and be built simpler and lighter.  


Part of the Fighter Mafia's influence can be seen in the F-15, which was originally supposed to much heavier with a swing-wing, akin to the ill-fated F-111.  Their real influence can be seen in the much cheaper F-16 and A-10, however.  Two machines that were built with a single purpose (the F-16 has since gone from its intended air superiority day fighter role to a multi-role workhorse.)


Sprey has since left his job at the Pentagon, stating that : "it became increasingly obvious that the atmosphere at the Pentagon was such that it would be impossible to build another honest aircraft."  He now records jazz and gospel music with his "Mapleshade Records" label.  One of those recording "Walk With Me" by the ARC Choir, was sampled by Kanye West for his song "Jesus Walks".  Really.


Sprey still finds time to speak out about current military aviation.  He wasn't a huge fan of the F-22, stating it was too expensive (it was) and too vulnerable to risk.  His dislike for the F-35 Lightning II, however, is astounding.  He goes so far as to call it a "turkey"  and "exceptionally dumb".  


Bill Sweetman

Jane's and Aviation Week's Bill Sweetman.
As an defense and aerospace journalist for Aviation Week and Jane's, Bill Sweetman has over 40 years experience covering military aviation.  It was Bill Sweetman's job to cover the F-35.  I say "was" because at one point he was suspended from reporting on F-35 matters by Aviation Week's management.

Having followed the JSF program from the very beginning, Bill Sweetman has pretty much come up with the conclusion that the F-35 is a flop.  While a journalist merely reports the facts, Sweetman sees himself as more of an analyst and is giving his educated, informed thesis on the subject.

Sweetman continues to be vocal critic of the JSF program.


Bloggers, commenters, et al.

"Bark bark.  Yip yip.  Growl."
Of course the internet is filled with self-confessed experts.  Go to any web forum and you will be overwhelmed by the knowledge and opinion of people going by the names like "viperluvr69".  Many will state that they, or a close personal friend, has inside knowledge about a subject and that you will "just have to trust me on this".  Of course, beneath a veil of anonymity, that poster could be anything from Pentagon Chief of Staff to a bored 10 year old.

Then there are the bloggers, which are simply a more advanced form of commenter.  They've taken it upon themselves to voice their opinion online for all to see.  Some cite there sources, others don't.  There are some very good blogs out there.  I find myself visiting Eric Palmer's spot and Solomon's "SNAFU" quite frequently.  I don't always agree, but I find them entertaining.  There is also the (now retired) "Why the F-35" and the very pro-JSF "Elements of Power" blog.

Just remember that these bloggers (including myself) are simply posting their opinion based on the facts that they have gathered.  They have bias and prejudice just like anybody else.  They also have little accountability.  This can be good and bad.  They aren't subject to censorship, but they also don't have to back up their statements.

Me.


That mug is full of Macallan scotch.
So...  What makes me special?  Nothing.

I'm not employed by any aerospace industry, military, or media outlet.  My training consists of flunking out of engineering (calculus is hard) and journalism (personal problems, long story).  My "day job" is that of an Advanced Care Paramedic, which usually consists of a fancy taxi service interrupted by brief stints of delivering babies on the side of the road, restarting hearts, searching for amputated arms, and other, weirder stuff.

Being a "base brat" growing up near CFB Greenwood, with a father in the RCAF, I became interested in fighter jets at a young age, before my attention got diverted more towards fast cars and other teenage stuff.  I never really outgrew my interest in aircraft, though...  Must have been the Testor's model glue.

I started this blog, and another, as a sort of therapy to deal with some PTSD I was dealing with at around the same time as Canada's controversial F-35 purchase announcement.  I didn't expect much, since I am certainly no expert...  I'm just a guy with an iMac and a decent skill in Google-Fu...  But the damn thing took off anyway.

I make no money off this blog.  The only reward I have received have been the many commenters and members of these blogs and the  gripen4canada and bestfighter4canada Facebook groups.  That in and of itself has proven incredibly rewarding.

So why does my opinion matter?  Well...  It doesn't really.  What matters is that, hopefully, you follow the links provided or do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

Thanks for reading.



[NOTE:  I will post this in the "pages" section at the top and add to this list over time.]




5 comments:

  1. Good blog. You're correct, perspective is everything and to have a one sided opinion on the best fighter for Canada should be considered lightly. I've warmed up to the Gripen. I've also backed off the F35 bandwagon because I am waiting for solid proof that this airplane is even remotely close to the marketing brochure or even comparable to the competition in real time, in real air, burning real Jet fuel.

    I'd be quite satisfied to see any current crop of fighter aircraft be selected and land at our bases with RCAF markings. Any selection can be scrutinized as wrong or right for Canada and be debated for the life of the aircraft. Hence why I believe the process is paralyzed already.

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  2. You're right, nobody can be really objective. I can't deny my own bias towards Rafale (but you already know that!).

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  3. Indeed I do!


    The great thing about bias though is that, once identified, you can often work past it.


    One thing I often question is that if the F-35 was developed prior to the internet age, would it be as controversial? Does it have its reputation simply because people know more about it? People's exposure to aircraft like the F-16 and F-18's development was likely limited to a few articles in magazines, usually written months ahead of publication. Nowadays if F-35 development hits a snag, we know about it within days, if not hours.

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  4. Indeed you're right. One way or another, we could justify any of the aircraft as the "right choice"... Especially if we aren't privy to the exact requirements needed.


    What's more important to me is that Canada makes the "best choice". The selection should be clearly explained, and all facts and figures should be known. This is our tax money being spent after all...

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  5. The F-35 is a buggy piece of junk.


    The original F-35 was supposed to cost the Pentagon around 65 million per plane (actually a lot less back in the '90s but since '911 changed everything'...well, you know).


    That was back when the Pentagon was still committed to buying the F-22 Raptor. When the Pentagon found out that Lockheed-Martin had gotten the US government to lower the specs for what had to be on the Raptor, but leave the price the same, they cancelled further purchases.


    They decided they'd just buy the "low cost" F-35 instead. Lockheed-Martin responded by telling them that since so much of what was on the F-35 was just scaled down to fit from the F-22, and they needed to recover their R&D money, they couldn't have the F-35 at 65 or so million per anymore and it would now be 113 million per plane, thank you very much.


    Some background:


    In the '70s, the US decided that they needed planes that would be relatively cheap to build, could eat up old Soviet MiG-21s in dogfights, and could operate with more top of the line aircraft as adjuncts.


    This resulted in the US Navy getting the F-18 Hornet to work alongside the heavy, expensive F-14 Tomcat with it's "swing wings", and the Air Force getting the F-16 Falcon to work along with the F-15 Eagle.


    The F-15 Eagle and F-14 Tomcat were full size, full capability front line fighters. The F-18 and F-16 were not.


    The F-35, like it's predecessors, was designed as a 2nd tier aircraft. It NEVER EVER was intended as a front line fighter. And you will NEVER EVER hear on the news that it wasn't, for "some reason".


    It also wasn't intended to cost 384 million per plane, but if Stephen Harper had had his way and gotten them for Canada at 25 billion, well, you can do the math. Take a pocket calculator, or use the one on your computer. 25 billion divided by 65 aircraft works out to a bit over 384 million each. And guess what - that ISN'T "okay because it includes maintenance" like our defence minister said.


    We also don't need the Eurofighter Typhoon at 143 million each, although granted that would be a far less lousy choice than the F-35.


    The best planes we could get for our dollar would be some of the Sukhoi Su-27 variants... like the Su-37. That aircraft is superior to the Eurofighter Typhoon and also one hell of a lot cheaper.


    The Europeans won't concede it, but the Eurofighter isn't even light years ahead of the older Su-27, which is still better in some regards. Certainly in terms of maneuverability it is, and probably range as well. Also, the Typhoon is a "tailless delta" design, and delta wings lose a lot of speed in hard turning.


    The Russian medium range air to air missile is better too unless the Typhoon has the ramjet powered one that British Aerospace was designing a while back.

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