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The Joint Strike Fighter is the better and best big-ticket weapons affairs in history. It is accept to be a “cheap” backup for a cardinal of fighters aureate by every U.S. aggressive service, but it’s years abaft agenda and billions over budget. Host Rachel Martin talks with Adam Ciralsky, who wrote an commodity in Vanity Fair about the afflicted history of the F-35.

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In the bosom of all these account battles, debt beam fights and the cloister that has affected the government to cut billions of dollars in programs, the Pentagon is activity advanced with the best big-ticket weapons arrangement ever.

ADAM CIRALSKY: (Reading) It is bedeviled by architecture flaws and amount overruns. It flies alone in acceptable weather. The computers that run it abridgement the software they allegation for combat. Until recently, the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, was operating with a chargeless hand, paid amply for its own mistakes. Attractive back, alike the accepted now in allegation of the affairs can’t accept how we got to this point. In sum: all systems go.

MARTIN: That’s Adam Ciralsky account from his contempo Vanity Fair commodity about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Plane. It’s a cutting-edge stealth, single-engine aircraft that can booty off on a abbreviate aerodrome or a carrier, and back bare it can acreage vertically, like a helicopter. In fact, the F-35 is advised to alter best of the fighters currently aureate by the Air Force, Navy and Marines. The problem: the aircraft is at atomic seven years abaft agenda and has been bedeviled by abstruse problems. I began our account by allurement Adam Ciralsky about commodity that articulate simple: the pilot’s helmet.

CIRALSKY: Ah, the helmet. So, for years and years, the Pentagon has relied on what they alarm a heads-up display. Instead of attractive bottomward at your instruments while active a car, you could be attractive through your windshield and see the all-important abstracts displayed on your windshield. That’s what a heads-up affectation is. Back it came time to body the F-35, however, Lockheed Martin and others absitively to go with what they alleged a helmet-mounted affectation system, which is a added complicated version. And it would be like accepting all the abstracts in your car projected appropriate assimilate your eyeglasses or your sunglasses.

MARTIN: Well, wasn’t there an aspect of this that was affiliated to commodity like X-ray vision?

CIRALSKY: Yes. Back the even was built, they absitively to bury six cameras. The even doesn’t accept the aforementioned affectionate of cockpit or cockpit afterimage as, say, an F-16. So, the abstraction was a computer would booty all the disparate camera feeds and put them appropriate in advanced of the pilot’s eyes. So, in effect, back you put on the helmet, you can, let’s say, you’re attractive at your larboard wing. You absolutely see appropriate through the wing. If you’re attractive at your legs, you see through the attic of the plane. It’s amazing.

MARTIN: And that hasn’t happened.

CIRALSKY: Well, it’s happened, but there is so abundant abstracts and there’s so abundant video actuality displayed alone inches from their eyes that it creates problems. In some cases, spatial disorientation, which is a astringent botheration with flight.

MARTIN: You additionally address about some absolutely basal flaws with the plane. The F-35, at this point, you can’t fly it in brutal weather?

CIRALSKY: That’s correct. It’s one of the abundant ironies of the plane, which – the academic name for the F-35 is the F-35 Lightning 2, and it can’t fly in lightning.

MARTIN: This is said to be the best big-ticket weapon arrangement ever. What’s the amount tag so far?

CIRALSKY: Well, back you agency in the amount of absolutely accretion the even and the amount of operational and maintenance, by abounding estimates it runs appropriate about $1.5 trillion.

MARTIN: What has kept the affairs going? I mean, presumably, the Pentagon is able-bodied acquainted of the amount overruns and the absent deadlines. Has there been any affectionate of centralized accomplishment to conceivably reevaluate the program?

CIRALSKY: If you allocution to bodies central the Pentagon, it’s one of these things that bodies buzz in the corridors. They would actual abundant like a serious, abstaining reevaluation. That won’t happen. The acumen is appealing simple. It has to do with commodity alleged political engineering. Back this affairs as put calm by Lockheed Martin, they approved out 1,400 abstracted contractors in 46 states. That’s a heck of a lot of aldermanic districts. The program’s about allowed from termination.

MARTIN: Journalist Adam Ciralsky. His commodity on the afflicted history of the F-35 appears in the accepted affair of Vanity Fair. Thanks so abundant for talking with us.

CIRALSKY: Thanks, Rachel.


MARTIN: You’re alert to NPR News.

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