The F-35: A Horrible Plane But a Great Debate Tactic

Meet the F-35.

The Lockheed Martin fighter jet is the most expensive military program in all of recorded history. After years of disastrous mechanical problems and cost overruns, the project is nearing completion this year.

Depending on the model, the F-35 costs between $94 million and $121 million per plane. Despite costing hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, the F-35 reportedly can’t fight, hide or safely eject a pilot. Most alarmingly perhaps, years into its development, it couldn’t turn. It’s so obviously awful that even noted dullard Donald Trump blasted them on the campaign trail. Once he became president, he said the cost overrun problems were solved (they weren’t) and said the planes are invisible (they aren’t).

But while it’s useless in the air, it’s going to serve a critical purpose in your life. It’s going to become the “Venezuela” of the left.

Right wingers love to sputter “Venezuela” when encountering reasonable social spending proposals. They believe the complicated economic collapse of disproves the validity of democratic socialist programs modeled after Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, the four happiest countries on the planet. But whatever. That’s fine. They can have “Venezuela.” We have “F-35.”

Earlier this month, Mike Roach’s twitter thread about the F-35 went viral, bringing the decades-long boondoggle behind the stealth fighter jet into the spotlight. Roach’s thread is worth reading in full, but here are some highlights.

Roach isn’t the first F-35 critic, he’s just the best at threading his comments together on Twitter. War is Boring writer Dan Grazier and Daily Beat guest John Dolan AKA The War Nerd have slammed the F-35 for years.

Some left-wing fighter jet-hating elected officials oppose the jet, saying “the F-35’s dismal record on cost, schedule, and performance is a predictable consequence of a broken defense acquisition system.” Oh, wait. Did I say “left-wing” and “jet-hating”? Sorry. Scratch that. That’s a quote from fighter jet pilot, Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain. McCain’s a longtime vocal critic of the F-35, which he called a “an incredible waste of the taxpayers’ dollar” in 2011.

Like anything popular on social media, there was a backlash to Roach’s F-35 thread. That’s not entirely surprising or unwarranted. It’s not an airtight, perfect document. a Twitter thread written in conversational language by someone without firsthand experience with military tech. It links to Sputniknews, a Russian-government owned news source that the New York Times characterized as a propaganda outlet. And, worst of all, it makes repeated references to Transformers toys.

Defense industry reporters pounced on the thread’s supposed inaccuracies. Defense News air warfare reporter Valerie Insinna dismissed the thread as a “garbage rant” without offering specifics (I emailed Insinna for clarification but haven’t heard back. However, she inspired a video of the F-35 landing in reverse set to Juvenile’s 1999 hit “Back that Azz Up,” so we’re cool.).

Reuters journalist Gerry Doyle listed a couple of minor-seeming errors but conceded that “the broad point that the plane’s development and procurement was messy and overly expensive is correct.”

The F-35 made its combat debut earlier this summer when Israel flew the jets on a mission over the Middle East (details about the mission are vague but a featured photograph said the jets flew over Lebanon). Let it make its argument debut in your life as soon as some right wing dolt asks “how are you going to pay for it” upon hearing of a government proposal that might benefit people.

Your answer: “our government didn’t hesitate to pay Lockheed Martin $1 trillion for a worthless jet. The money isn’t scarce. Our priorities just suck.”