Reuters has published a detailed report about a Pentagon briefing in which the extreme option of cancelling high cost military projects, including the F-35 Lightning II or Joint Strike Fighter as it is better known here could be exercised to meet fierce US budget reduction targets.
Up front, the report makes it clear that the Pentagon was arguing very lucidly against such a cancellation, and it could be read as the US military turning such an unthinkable option into a ‘straw man’ for the purpose of lobbying against significant overall funding cutbacks.
But that’s ‘up front’. The confirmation of such an option being presented in a ‘secret’ briefing that was inevitably going to be leaked to the White House media means that this is considered at high levels to be a no longer unthinkable possibility, and one worthy of a PR strategy to identify, isolate and perhaps kill off on the wider stage of national political reporting and analysis rather than as a debate that has gained some heat in recent years in more specialised defense commentary and analysis circles.
It is fair to surmise that the Pentagon would collectively hope that stories like the one published by Reuters might cause the US Defense Secretary, if not the US President, to make a an unequivocal, cast iron public commitment to the massively costly and incredibly delayed and technologically challenged F-35 project thus rendering it immune to being cut back, or even cut down.
So far, if that is the purpose of the leaks, the silence has been deafening, but on Capitol Hill anything is possible, and no political word uttered upon it is likely to be trusted as inviolable for quite some time, if not forever.
The one thing the Reuters story doesn’t touch upon is what will happen if by 2018, the Joint Strike Fighter project still hasn’t delivered on its many and extensive promises, and remains a massive burden on the public purses of the US and the its JSF partners, some of whom, like Australia, will be left totally without the air superiority the JSF fighters are intended to bring.
By 2018 the capability gap between the air defense and offense capabilities of the west and ambivalent, hostile, or at the very least, increasingly rich and independently minded non-western states has a very good chance of being awkwardly and more widely apparent.
If the JSF can’t fill that gap, we are in terrible trouble, not compensated for by no longer facing budgetary ruin trying to acquire the Joint Strike Fighters that fools in Canberra in 2009 and 2010 were glibly insisting might be delayed until as far out as 2014, which is almost upon us.
Read the Reuters story again, and ask yourself, Why did this story get leaked by the Pentagon?