The F-35B is the "worst" of the F-35 variants for several reasons, F-16 engineer Pierre Sprey told Loud & Clear on Radio Sputnik Wednesday.
The UK is eyeing F-35Bs specifically because the Royal Navy doesn’t have aircraft carriers equipped with catapults to launch aircraft. But first of all, the lift-fan engine that gives it Short Take Off and Vertical Lift (STOVL) capabilities is extremely heavy. Ultimately this means the warplane can’t carry as much fuel as the F-35A and F-35C, Sprey explained. “So it’s quite short-legged,” the engineer said.
Furthermore, the F-35B would be "lucky to put in half an hour over troops in loiter time,” Pierre remarked. "The maneuverability is terrible, the range is terrible, the payload is terrible," he continued. And due to the lack of maneuverability the F-35’s air-to-air capability is "zilch."
The F-35 has a no shortage of mechanical and technical issues — and every snafu translates to rising costs.
The US military is scrambling for solutions to fix the oxygen generation systems on F-35s following a series of adverse "physiological episodes." Slow engine production is pushing up acquisition costs for the Pentagon. Even the plane’s "autonomous logistic information system" (ALIS) caused a temporary suspension of F-35 flight operations for US Marines in Yuma, Arizona.
While the US is working to fix all these issues, London has yet to fully embark on the long path to keeping F-35s functional. "Because of all the things that remain to be fixed — and it’s a huge long list … the Brits face a lot more costs than they think," Sprey concluded.
The UK is slated to buy 138 F-35 fighters. Lockheed Martin claims each jet will run £77 million to £100 million, The Times reports, but the paper’s investigation found the real cost per unit may run closer to £150 million (nearly $200 million).