Here’s something the public didn’t know until today: If one of the U.S. military’s new F-35 stealth fighters has to climb at a steep angle in order to dodge an enemy attack, design flaws mean the plane might suddenly tumble out of control and crash.
Also, some versions of the F-35 can’t accelerate to supersonic speed without melting their own tails or shedding the expensive coating that helps to give the planes their radar-evading qualities.
The Pentagon’s $400-billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, one of the biggest and most expensive weapons programs in history, has come under fire, so to speak, over more than a decade for delays, rising costs, design problems and technical glitches.
But startling reports by trade publication Defense News on Wednesday revealed flaws that previously only builder Lockheed Martin, the military, and the plane’s foreign buyers knew about.
The newly-exposed problems underscore the potential fragility of American air power as the armed services work to replace more and more old fighters with as many as 2,300 F-35s while also reconfiguring to confront the increasingly deadly Chinese and Russian air forces.
The problems might also help to explain why acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan reportedly described the F-35 program as “fucked up.”
Defense News obtained military documents detailing a wide range of serious problems with two of the three versions of the F-35. The Air Force’s F-35A appears to be exempt from the latest flaws, but the Marine Corps’ vertical-landing F-35B and the Navy’s carrier-compatible F-35C both suffer what the services call “category 1” deficiencies. (In military parlance, a category 1 flaw in a plane can prevent a pilot from accomplishing their mission.)
The F-35 program and the office of the secretary of defense did not respond to requests for comment.
One problem cropped up during test flights in 2011, Defense News reported, citing the trove of military documents. In the 2011 tests, at least one F-35B and F-35C both flew at speeds of Mach 1.3 and Mach 1.4. A post-flight inspection in November 2011 revealed the F-35B sustained “bubbling [and] blistering” of its stealth coating.
Further supersonic tests in December 2011 revealed structural damage on an F-35C resulting from the extreme heat coming from the plane’s single Pratt & Whitney engine, one of the most powerful fighter engines ever made.
To avoid similar damage, the military has limited F-35B and F-35C pilots to flying at supersonic speed for less than a minute at a time.
But that could make it impossible for aviators to keep up with, or avoid, Russian and Chinese fighters flying faster than the speed of sound without any restrictions. “It is infeasible for the Navy or Marine Corps to operate the F-35 against a near-peer threat under such restrictions,” Defense News paraphrased the documents as saying.
The test reports Defense News obtained also reveal a second, previously little-known category 1 deficiency in the F-35B and F-35C aircraft. If during a steep climb the fighters exceed a 20-degree “angle of attack”—the angle created by the wing and the oncoming air—they could become unstable and potentially uncontrollable.
To prevent a possible crash, pilots must avoid steeply climbing and other hard maneuvers. “Fleet pilots agreed it is very difficult to max perform the aircraft” in those circumstances, Defense News quoted the documents as saying.
The implications are chilling. In a dogfight with a Russian or Chinese jet that can exceed a 20-degree angle of attack, an American flying and F-35 could be at a serious disadvantage.
The revelation of the two performance flaws comes at a critical time for the 18-year-old F-35 program. Pentagon officials plan to declare an end to the testing phase of the F-35’s development sometime in late 2019 and clear the fighter for mass production.
The stealth fighter enjoys strong support from Congress, owing in part to the thousands of jobs the JSF program sustains, albeit at a cost of around $10 billion a year to U.S. taxpayers. In anticipation of a green light for mass production, the Pentagon and Lockheed in early June reached an informal agreement on a $34-billion deal for 470 F-35s.
The Air Force told The Daily Beast it is confident in its own version of the F-35. “Fielding and deployment plans for the F-35 have not changed,” the Air Force’s Air Combat Command said in a statement. “The F-35 plays an essential role in U.S. air combat superiority and we are highly confident in its capabilities and performance.”
The military and Lockheed have identified possible fixes to all the problems Defense News revealed. A new coating could minimize heat damage. Better flight-control software could mitigate the risk of a crash during hard maneuvers. “We expect this item to be resolved or downgraded,” Greg Ulmer, a Lockheed vice president, told Defense News in reference to crash risk.
But if the program doesn’t apply the fixes before F-35 production picks up, it’s possible the deficiencies will become “baked in” on scores or even hundreds of F-35s. Retroactively fixing deficient jets could cost billions of dollars.
To a great extent, the damage is done. Owing to the Pentagon’s controversial decision to manufacture F-35s while still testing them, Lockheed has delivered around 400 early-model F-35s to the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and to U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom and Israel.
The Air Force, Marines, and Israel have already deployed their F-35s in combat against lightly-armed militant groups.
More than 100 of those early F-35s are B-models that cannot safely fly fast or maneuver hard. They’ll need fixing. It won’t be cheap. The military was already spending billions of dollars modifying older F-35s. That bill could grow to cover the flaws Defense News revealed.
Fixes could take a while. “The services will have to wait five years or more to get a fully functional aircraft, if they ever do,” Dan Grazier, an analyst with the Project on Government Oversight in Washington, D.C., told The Daily Beast.
In the meantime, the armed services possess scores of F-35s they cannot safely send into high-tech combat, according to Grazier. “The program is definitely not ready for active service.”
Trump Again Boosts a Baseless Conspiracy Theory, This One About Jeffrey Epstein
President Donald Trump on Saturday promoted a conspiracy theory linking the Clinton family to the death of multimillionaire and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, the latest instance of Trump propagating baseless conspiracy theories and falsehoods.
Trump shared a tweet and video from conservative comedian Terrence Williams that claimed without evidence that former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — Trump’s 2016 presidential election rival — were responsible for Epstein’s death. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and Attorney General Bill Barr said Epstein died in an “apparent suicide” while in federal custody.
As a result of Trump’s retweet, the video received more than 3 million views on Twitter by Sunday morning — more than triple Williams’ most recent videos. Both Trump and Bill Clinton were friendly with Epstein in previous decades, but Trump seized on the conspiracy theory Saturday in his latest dig at the Clintons. The tweet also falsely claimed that Epstein died while on suicide watch, even though Epstein had been taken off of suicide watch before his death.
Angel Ureña, a spokesman for the former president, called the conspiracy theory “ridiculous, and of course not true.”
“And Donald Trump knows it,” Ureña tweeted.
Trump promotes conspiracy theories
Lawmakers and government officials have called for inquiries into Epstein’s death, but none have gone so far as to even suggest that political rivals were behind it.
Unlike any other President before him, Trump has repeatedly promoted evidence-free conspiracy theories and falsehoods without regard for the consequences of his rhetoric.
Even before he was a candidate for President, Trump grew his following on the political right by promoting the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya — and not the United States — even after Obama released a birth certificate showing he was born in the US.
During his campaign for President, Trump spread a conspiracy theory linking the father of his then-GOP presidential rival Sen. Ted Cruz to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Cruz campaign denied it was Rafael Cruz and Cruz, a Texas Republican, responded at the time by blasting Trump as a pathological liar.
And in the second month of his presidency, Trump accused Obama without evidence of tapping his phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. More than two years later, there is still no evidence that Trump’s phones were wiretapped during the 2016 campaign.
Trump has also repeatedly claimed without evidence that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election; has fed conspiracy theories about a “deep state” of government officials working against him; and has also falsely smeared former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” and called the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign “treason” — among many others.
Trump was not the only official in his administration to promote the Epstein-Clintons conspiracy theory.
Lynne Patton, a senior official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a longtime Trump family aide and friend, also gave voice to the conspiracy theory on her Instagram account earlier in the day.
Trump’s tweet promoting the conspiracy theory came about an hour after Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio warned of the dangers of spreading partisan conspiracy theories about Epstein’s death.
“Scrutiny of how #Epstein was able to commit suicide is warranted,” Rubio tweeted. “But the immediate rush to spread conspiracy theories about someone on the ‘other side’ of partisan divide having him killed illustrates why our society is so vulnerable to foreign disinformation & influence efforts.”
White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway appeared on Fox News Sunday defending the President. “I think the President just wants everything to be investigated,” Conway said when asked about Trump’s controversial retweet.
“Just the day before, there was some unsealed information implicating some people very high up,” she said, referring to the hundreds of pages of documents from a defamation lawsuit from one of Epstein’s accusers. Those documents were unsealed Friday by a court.
“I will say that there’s always this rush to (say), ‘We need transparency. We need accountability,’ when it involves fictional accusations like collusion with Russia to swing an election. This seems to be very concrete and that Jeffrey Epstein has done some very bad things over a number of years. So let’s continue to investigate that,” Conway said.
Democrats call out Trump for ‘more recklessness’
Still, two 2020 Democratic presidential candidates on Sunday called out Trump for retweeting the Epstein conspiracy theory and the President’s history of spreading baseless claims.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker called Trump’s latest theory-peddling “more recklessness” and “dangerous,” telling CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that Trump has “been using the Clintons as a means for a lot of his false accusations.”
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke also told Tapper that Trump is attacking his “political enemies with unfounded conspiracy theories” and called it “bizarre behavior.”
O’Rourke said the President is attempting to shift the focus away from last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
“He’s changing the conversation, and if we allow him to do that, then we will never be able to focus on the true problems, of which he is a part, and make sure that we get to the solutions,” O’Rourke, an El Paso native, said.
Jeffrey Epstein Was Not Being Monitored in Jail as Directed Before His Death
Authorities said Epstein died of apparent suicide. He was in jail on sex-trafficking charges.
The law enforcement official told The Times Epstein was supposed to be checked by guards every 30 minutes, but that procedure was not being followed the night he was found dead in the Manhattan jail.
The jail had also transferred Epstein’s cellmate and left him alone ahead of his apparent suicide, The Times reports.
Epstein’s death has left officials and lawmakers asking for answers on how this happened.
Epstein had apparently been taken off suicide watch before he died.
His death comes just weeks after officials investigated a possible suicide attempt.
The FBI is launching an investigation into the circumstances of Epstein’s death, Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.
R. Kelly Charged With Soliciting a Minor in Minnesota
A Minnesota prosecutor has charged R. Kelly with prostitution and solicitation charges for a 2001 allegation that he invited a 17-year-old girl to his hotel and paid her $200 to dance naked with him.
On Monday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, is accused of soliciting the girl after meeting her before a concert in Minneapolis.
Freeman said the girl was trying to get an autograph from Kelly, and that the R&B performer gave her his signature and a phone number. When the girl called the number, she was invited to Kelly’s hotel. There she was offered $200 to take off her clothes and dance, Freeman said. He said Kelly took his clothes off and they danced together.
A criminal complaint said the girl said Kelly lay on his bed and the girl climbed on top of him “body to body.”
“According to Victim, the defendant was rubbing her body” and fondling himself, according to the complaint. “Victim stated that the defendant touched all over her body.”
The complaint said the girl attended Kelly’s concert “as a guest who did not have to pay,” and told her brother what had happened in Kelly’s hotel room.
According to Variety, Freeman said that the victim was under 18 but at least 16 years old at the time and the incident involved “dancing and sexual contact.” He added that there was no sexual intercourse between Kelly and the victim.
The charges are felonies, each punishable by up to five years in prison. Freeman said his office investigated after getting a tip from a Chicago tip line.
“We felt we had more than enough to charge based on her testimony and corroboration from her brother,” Freeman — who did not provide a name for the alleged victim in Minneapolis — said.
In a statement to Fox News on Monday, Kelly’s attorney Steve Greenberg, said: “That case is a pure publicity grab by the prosecutor.” Greenberg also tweeted: “Give me a break. This is beyond absurd.”
Gloria Allred, the attorney for several of Kelly’s accusers, said she also represents the newest woman to come forward. She commended the woman “for the courage she displayed in speaking to law enforcement.
“As this new case demonstrates, it is not too late for there to be justice for even more victims of R. Kelly,” Allred — who added she will not name the woman — said in a statement.
Allred said her client is not a prostitute. She told a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday that she was told the prostitution statute was the only one available to Minnesota authorities to charge Kelly in this case.
The charges are the latest legal problem for the 52-year-old singer, who remains jailed in New York after pleading not guilty last week in federal court to charges that he sexually abused women and girls who attended his concerts there. He is accused of using his fame to recruit young women and girls into illegal sexual activity.
Kelly is also charged separately in Chicago with engaging in child pornography.
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