America’s latest stealth fighter just got heavier, slower and more sluggish.
For the second time in a year, the Pentagon has eased the performance requirements of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The reduced specs — including a slower acceleration and turning rate — lower the bar for the troubled trillion-dollar JSF program, allowing it to proceed toward full-rate production despite ongoing problems with the plane’s complex design. Under the old specs, the stealth fighter, due to enter service in 2018 or 2019, probably wouldn’t pass its Pentagon-mandated final exams.
At the same time, newly identified safety problems could force F-35-smith Lockheed Martin to add fire-suppression gear that will only increase the plane’s weight and further decrease its maneuverability. The JSF is meant to be a jack of all trades, equally capable of dropping bombs and fighting other aircraft — the latter requiring extreme nimbleness in the air.