An experienced pilot of the South Korean Air Force flew a week ago on a plane that was supposed to be the latest technology. The most numerous military aircraft of the fifth generation in the world, the F-35 Lightning II (Lightning II), represented the pride of the South Korean army, a demonstration of alliance with the United States and a guarantee of freedom to residents more democratic than the two Koreas, reports Jutarnji.hr.
Suddenly, almost all systems on the plane failed. The only thing that worked were the pilot controls and the jet engine. All other electronics and auxiliary systems have stopped working. Even the emergency lowering system has stopped working.
The South Korean pilot returned in a second from the plane of the future, equipped with the most modern technology of the 21st century, to a plane that seems to have been created during the Second World War, which is operated “by feeling”. The pilot eventually landed “on his stomach”, which was great courage – or madness. No one would have blamed him for jumping out of a plane, but he decided to risk his own life in order to save about $ 100 million worth of a miracle of technology.
Staff from the military base covered the runway with special foam to prevent an explosion, and the pilot left the runway unharmed on foot after a successful forced landing. What damage the plane suffered is a military secret.
South Korea has landed its entire fleet of 30 F-35 aircraft and an investigation has begun. It was the first serious incident of the South Korean Lightning, but by no means the first serious plane incident on which the United States has placed all its hopes for this century.
The F-35 has so far been bought or ordered by 15 countries around the world, the last of which was Finland. Helsinki chose the American fighter, which should replace the outdated fleet of F-18 fighter-bomber fighters, as the best in the competition, which included the Swedish Gripen, as well as the French Rafal, which was recently chosen by Croatia as its fighter plane.
“The comprehensive system and capabilities of aircraft in combat, reconnaissance and survival are unparalleled,” the Finnish commission wrote in its conclusions. “The F-35 broke out in first place or shared first place in all mission areas and achieved the highest overall rating.”
Finnish Major General Passy Jokinen said that the F-35 achieved a score of 4.47 in the capability assessment, and the first following aircraft achieved only 3.81. Impressive numbers for the plane, which many have accused of being too expensive and never successful. At the end of the last century, the United States wanted a military plane that could do anything.
One plane that will serve both as an interceptor fighter and as a bomber fighter and as a naval fighter that takes off from an aircraft carrier and as an amphibious fighter that takes off vertically from a helicopter carrier. And it will be invisible and have the most modern technological systems, be fully networked and cruise faster than the speed of sound, with a range of more than 1000 kilometers without external fuel tanks. Only one plane that will be used by all American branches of the army – the Air Force and the Army, the Navy and the Marines. The ambitious program of the new fifth generation aircraft thus actually arose from a practically impossible wish list, which became the first and real cause of its numerous problems that will follow.
Like a printer that tries to be a scanner and copier at the same time, or a sports car that wants to be both a station wagon and an SUV, the new plane was initially faced with the challenge – whether to do one thing great or many things halfway. The main guiding idea obviously originated in the minds of politicians, who liked the idea of ”plane for all” as something that will save taxpayers money in the end. Maintenance, spare parts, training of pilots and technical staff … all this will bring significant savings compared to the scenario in which the US Armed Forces will have five or six aircraft to perform various tasks. In the end, three models were developed, with the goal of having as many common parts as possible.
F-35A is a conventional version, intended for the Air Force, while F-35C intended for the navy, with slightly larger wings and a reinforced landing gear.
Third version, F-35B, was conceived as the successor to the Harrier, a British fighter whose specialty was vertical landing. This version, intended for marines for use on helicopter carriers, as well as countries with smaller aircraft carriers, such as Great Britain, Italy and Japan, contains a vertical turbine in its fuselage that can be activated by a clutch and allow the plane to hover in one place. The first version A plane took off fifteen years ago, in 2006. But then followed years of testing and solving problems that followed one another, and the media and military experts often ridiculed the plane. He had problems with the supply of oxygen to the pilots, with an oversized helmet due to which the pilots could not turn their heads, he had countless problems with computer systems and weapons, which worked and did not work equally often.
In January 2015, no F-35 could fire from its own cannons, because the software that would enable them to do so was not yet enabled. Lockheed-Martin, the company that makes the planes, estimated that the 20-millimeter cannon on version A will finally work by 2019 – just four years later, after many world armies will receive their first examples of planes.
In June 2015, the F-35 was embarrassed during military maneuvers in which it engaged in a simulation of close combat with the F-16 Falcon.
The designers of the F-35 claimed that the new plane would be “four times more efficient than its predecessor in air combat”, but by 2015 that claim was mitigated to the level that it would “be at least as maneuverable as the F-16”. But the maneuvers showed that this claim was also exaggerated. In all key aspects of close air combat, the nearly half-century-old F-16 was faster, more agile and agile. The test pilot’s report, which leaked to the media, said that the F-35 flew completely “clean”, without any external weapons or tanks, and the F-16 carried two large fuel tanks, but was still more agile.
“Insufficient lifting speed,” the pilot wrote among his critics. “The energy deficit versus the rival plane only grew over time. The flight characteristics were neither intuitive nor favorable.” If you’re flying an F-35, there’s no point in indulging in a turn-and-turn fight with another fighter, ”the pilot said.
Lockheed Martin, as well as the US military, later defended the plane, claiming that it would never engage in close combat. The plane is invisible to radar, has the most modern radars and electronics, and all air battles will end long before pilots can see the rival plane with their own eyes, they claimed.
The F-35 versions for the Navy and Marines do not even have a built-in cannon with which they could engage in close combat, although the Marine version is designed to provide close support to infantry – a scenario in which an automatic cannon would be extremely useful. In May 2016, almost ten years after the first model went out of production, the media described it as “the biggest disappointment of the US Air Force.”
The report about one day of the American member of the 461st Flying Squadron, Raven Leclerc, looked like a bad parody. Leclerc could not even take off, because the diagnostics reported a fault on the battery for starting the engine, even though it was completely correct. As if dealing with a worn-out office computer, Leclerc had to reset the plane to make the mistake go away. The planned testing of anti-aircraft missiles was postponed because the computer weapons system did not want to start, no matter how much they turned the systems on and off. When they fixed that problem and finally took off, Leclerc had to land again after one of the rockets refused to “communicate” with the plane, so another reset followed. The plane eventually did its testing, but not without a number of computer “hiccups”. Although most of them have (allegedly) been removed so far, one seems to have appeared in the cockpit of a South Korean specimen last week.
Despite all its problems and scandals – the most shocking last year was when a B model rolled into the sea from the deck of a British aircraft carrier – the F-35 is considered an international success today.
Primarily political and financial, but still a success. Several states bet on him even before he was finished. The United Kingdom, Italy and the Netherlands were the first to “jump on the train” and receive more favorable terms of procurement and delivery, as well as the promise that parts of the aircraft will be produced in their countries. They were joined by Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey, so the F-35 became an international project, not just an American one. Such a plan was a great relief to the US Congress, which was extremely concerned about the estimated cost of about $ 1,500 billion for the entire program – from design, procurement of more than 3,000 copies to their maintenance and upgrades over the next few decades.
International production meant not only the sharing of risks, but also guaranteed that part of the cost would be borne by the allies. But it also came with a security risk – with all the US effort to keep all the secrets of its most technologically advanced aircraft, it was clear that China and Russia would find it easier to get all the information they wanted about the F-35 the more the state used it. Although the military did not like the plan, Congress accepted it with open arms. Due to the danger of leaking secrets, Turkey was eventually expelled from the project, because Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted on the purchase of the Russian S-400 system, which Washington considered inadmissible.
With more than $ 400 billion spent on the project so far and with no alternative in the plan, the Pentagon has played with the F-35 at all or nothing. Whatever problems arise, they will simply have to be fixed, no matter the cost.
This “all or nothing” has won over many countries, which in the meantime have decided to buy the F-35. Although it may not be ideal, the plane represents an investment in the future – not only technological, but also political, because it guarantees a stable alliance with the United States in the coming decades.