JSF-Centric Warfare

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Now charging into the Joint Strike Fighter debate is the American Enterprise Institute, with what they call “a comprehensive case for the F-35”. It’s not exactly surprising that the AEI supports the F-35, since the right-wing think tank has never met a weapon that it did not like, and has long been a home for China hawks.

What is interesting about the document is the strategic thinking behind it, which strongly downplays the Air Sea Battle concept in favor of a “forward strategy” that relies more on the Army and Marine Corps. Alone among F-35 operators, the Marines rate a whole chapter in the report, while the authors tout the Marines’ short take-off, vertical landing F-35B, in dispersed and hardened bases, as a solution to anti-access problems.

The authors are big on partnership-building and using short-range aircraft and land forces to ensure that allies are drawn into the fight, along the same lines as the Cold War confrontation in Europe. They go as far as to state that "ensuring that Chinese aggression draws blood from many nations is a critical element in raising the bar of deterrence".

A force heavy on long-range aircraft and warships does not do that, the AEI argues, and “without the mass and flexibility that [the F-35] provides, any first strike by China will fall on an inherently brittle defense.”

The writers push the notion of dispersal and base hardening, citing the Swedish air force’s Cold War practice, and then talk about an air force that is "essentially a light raiding, or ... a scouting hit-and-run 'cavalry' force that can fight for information and begin to shape the battlefield for larger and more powerful forces to exploit."

My italics. They have to mean land forces because there is nothing else in the picture that meets the description. This isn't even 1970s Cold War doctrine. The AEI is channeling Douglas Haig.

One question:  Are the authors constructing a “boot-centric” forward strategy in order to justify spending every airpower cent on JSF, or are they using JSF and its industrial lobby to promote a forward strategy?

Either way, it does not help their case that the report and its associated web page are full of misinformation, distortion and unqualified assertions. For instance, the introductory Q&A website for the report says:

Why have program costs increased so dramatically?

First, costs have gone up because of changing government requirements.

There is no evidence to support this statement in the report itself, because no such evidence exists:  The only changes have been diminutions, such as changes in mission profile to help the aircraft meet its range capability, while the contractor team has been given more time and money to do the job.

The report does say that the challenges of building the F-35 can be blamed “most of all” on “irregular funding”, even though systems development and demonstration budgets have never been raided or made conditional on arbitrary goals, and delays in production have simply reflected delays in development.

Other signs of  weak editing, at best: The report touts the idea that India will buy the JSF, without telling the reader that India has an active program to collaborate with Russia on the T-50. It talks about "the implosion of the European fighter-making industry" – an industry that in 2012 delivered more operational fighters than the US, launched a 126-jet program with India, kicked off the JAS 39E, qualified an AAM that outclasses AMRAAM, and flew a stealth unmanned combat aircraft demonstrator.

The writers enthuse about the Flight 0 ships of the America class (LHA-6 and LHA-7), with their increased aviation capacity – “these truly are small aircraft carriers” – but don’t tell their readers that the Flight 0’s no-well-deck design has already been trashcanned for later ships.

Another piece this week makes an F-35B-centered pitch for the JSF, from retired Adm. James A. Lyons, now a defense consultant. What’s interesting is that both are placed on the political right. Lyons’ story is in the Washington Times, and AEI is not trying to sway any San Francisco or Boston Democrats.

This is aimed at cheap hawks of the Teapartyish and other persuasions – people who may be ready to believe that government shilly-shallying is to blame for overruns and that Air Sea Battle is an Obama-administration way of getting out of paying for real armed forces. So you wonder:  are people getting worried about a bipartisan attack on the JSF?

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