The F35 exists because the F22 is so much better than every other fighter jet in the world that the US does not want to sell it to anyone, not even our closest “5 Eyes” partners (UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand).
The F35 is a less capable, and therefore “second best” fighter jet. The F35 can be exported, and the export market combined with the US market means enough of them can be manufactured to get the price per plane down to something “affordable” (the price of the F22 per plane is enormous which is why we made so few of them).
Since China and Russia will be making air defense systems and air superiority fighters designed to fight the F22, those systems will, by definition be able to beat the F35.
The F35 is ugly. To meet the needs of the Marine Corps it had to have VTOL capability. That required compromises in the shape of the plane which made it less than aesthetically pleasing. Could have been worse – the Boeing entry in the F35 development program was even uglier.
The F35 is going to be a lot more expensive than anyone wanted. Despite the idea that producing it in volume could control costs it has proved to be a bitch to make work and the program is vastly overbudget and behind schedule.
It has no legitimate strategic role. The missions against targets that are not in China or Russia being flown today by F/A18s and F16s aren’t likely to change. With the F22, drones and cruise missiles to knock down air defenses, the existing planes could continue to do what they do for the foreseeable future.
A war with China or Russia where massed fleets of F35s would actually have to engage in air superiority missions is so laughably unlikely as to be not worth really considering. Assuming it were possible to have such a war without a nuclear exchange, F22s, drones and cruise missiles would be the weapons of choice until the air defenses were knocked aside (if even possible) and after that was done, the F35 would be no better or worse airframe to conduct follow on ground attack missions than the FA18 and F16s we have now.
The F35s range is insufficient to allow it to operate over enemy territory without refueling, which cannot be done unless air superiority has been achieved. Therefore its essentially useless against China, as there’s no way to conduct sustained air operations within range of China’s carrier-killer antiship ballistic missiles, and essentially useless against Russia unless a ground invasion allowed NATO forces to base from inside Russian territory for attacks on the Moscow region.
So we’re going to spend an insane amount of money on the F35, instead of more FA18s and F16s, but we’ll never actually use any of the capabilities that make an F35 better than an F18 or an F16.
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