Incident off The Spratleys Part 2 of 3 | William Thomas Online | William Thomas

Incident off The Spratleys Part 2 of 3

$13 billion USS Gerald R Fraud - Ford

Big Fat Target - $13 billion USS Gerald R. Ford



By William Thomas





Some 40 sea miles distant, CVN-78 is riding easily across choppy seas. At 1,106 feet, the Gerald Ford class ship is the navy’s first newly designed carrier in more than three decades. 


Named for the president who pardoned Tricky Dick, Gerald R. Ford boasts wider passageways, more efficient lightbulbs, a troublesome nuclear reactor, and enough untried aircraft launch and recovery tech to make an engineer pause. 

Happily, in big waves or the short, square chop of the South China Sea, Ford's 25 decks put the bridge in the ship’s “island” 250 feet above seas so distant they seem insignificant. 


Captain Nathaniel Hasley turns away from his favorite panorama to quiz his air wing commander on aircraft readiness. The most expensive weapons system in intergalactic history is expected to cost U.S. taxpayers a cool $1.5 trillion in construction and maintenance. 


Everyone knows it will be much, much more. Even with all the money saved not installing urinals.


But even before these technical kinks and toilet etiquette have been worked out, sister ship John F Kennedy is already under construction.


Then there’s that airplane-from-hell, Hasley can’t help thinking. Every morning starts with problems with the Fucking -35C that have to be dealt with. 


One marine jet was delivered with gaps in its stealth coating. It takes two-weeks to recoat and “cure” any F-35 fuselage repair. Swapping engines – a 6 to 8-hour job on an F-16 – takes two days for an F-35. 



F-35 office closed for repairs

This morning, it's a valve that's been installed backwards and has to be replaced. Thank Christ the crew chief caught it before another pilot died.


“How long?” the captain repeats.


“It's about a seven-day operation,” CAG comes back. He’s already checked with the maintenance chief.


“A week? You must be a comedian.” 


CAG throws up his hands. "Every time we run a test on the 35, we find something new, captain. As time goes on we keep finding more problems.”


“Hasn’t anyone in the program heard, ‘Fly before you buy’?” Captain Hasley splutters. 


“If war comes, we’re expected to launch 160 airstrikes per day from that five-acre flight deck,” CAG comes back. “But the shipbuilders kept having to incorporate design changes into this ship as they were building her. Just like those flying turkeys. Which is why Ford is years late and costs an extra $2 billion and the F-35 is a tur…”


“Stow it,” the captain cuts him off. 


“Sorry sir,” says CAG, thinking, As this design kept morphing, the navy kept increasing the number of sailors it needed to run their new carrier. The result: insufficient berthing for some ratings, who have to “hot bunk” with the off-watch.


The girls – women – really don’t go for sharing their limited personal space. Or sit-down potties with men who can’t aim. Even worse, all those years of delay had already resulted in extended deployments for the navy’s operational carriers, placing additional stress on sailors. And family members ashore.


Yet, after all this sacrifice and expense, the world’s costliest-ever carrier has been found by navy evaluators: “Unlikely to succeed in combat.” 


At least Trump likes it. As if that bogus Commander in Chief could tell a carrier from a carbine.


“Heavy black smoke over the horizon to port,” a lookout sings out. “Could be a ship afire.”


F-35B from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 near its base in Beaufort, South Carolina -Lockheed Martin

Before the captain can response, he’s interrupted by the CIC. The radar-shy Zumwalt is not responding to repeated radio hails. CIC wants to vector both jets aloft on Combat Air Patrol to investigate. 


“They’re bingo fuel,” CAG tells the captain. “We’ve got to take them back aboard or launch a tanker.”


“No time for that,” says Captain Hasley. “Bring ‘em back. Launch the ready-alert jets.” 


To the OOD: “Bring us into the wind. Make turns for 35 knots.”


The Officer of the Deck repeats the order. And makes it so.


“Launch the ready-alert jets,” CAG orders over the 1MC. “Get a tanker aloft. Stand by to recover aircraft.”


F-35C 1st catapult launch from USS Nimitz

F-35C Lightning II -Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brett Cote

The first F-35C taxis into position on the electromagnetic catapult. Doing away with ancient steam cats, Ford’s newfangled Aircraft Launch System’s 100,000-horsepower railgun uses a slide zipping down an electrified rail buried in the deck to hurtle the heavy jets with their bigger wings bodily into the air. 


Strato-bank 1950s

Just like my spring-loaded rocket ship piggybank used to shoot dimes into a slot in its tail when I was a boy, CAG thinks


“How many is this?” the captain asks. CAG checks the board. “This will be our 241st launch, captain.”


“That’s one too many,” Hasley says. “Even though we’re well short of the specified 4,166 take-offs, we’re risking a critical cat failure.”


“Can’t be helped,” CAG shrugs. “Not if we’re to maintain any kind of operational tempo if things go south. Tires are also wearing out two, three, four times faster than expected. We can’t keep them resupplied.”


“Tires aren't rocket science,” the exec breaks in. “For a trillion bucks, we ought to be able to figure out how to do tires.”


But the captain is watching the F-35 on the catapult. 


“You can’t overstate the significance of how advanced this airplane is over anything that's flying,” enthuses the exec, copying his captain’s gaze. 


CAG is silent, thinking: The true cost of this airplane – when you throw out all the bullshit – is $219 million or more per copy. And the 35’s experimental technology is so innovative… it still doesn't work. 


F-35B Vertical Landing

F-35B vertical capabiities drain range, performance

The F-35 “is supposed to replace virtually all of the jet fighters in the United States military: One clean “A” model for the Air Force, another heavier, compromised “C” variant for the Navy’s aircraft carriers and a third piggishly heavy “B” jump jet hobbled by a third downward-ducted turbine for Vertical Takeoff and Landing to give Close Air Support for the Marines, who have not forgotten – or forgiven – being abandoned by Fletcher’s carriers at Guadalcanal. 


Except the F-35 can’t do CAS. 


“The range at which you can detect the enemy can be 10-times further when you'll see him before he'll see you. And he – or she – who shoots first, wins,” the exec prattles on. 


“Yeah,” says CAG, starting to wonder why the launch is delayed. “Except when 24 million lines of software code start singing Christmas carols.”


“What can you expect?” the exec comes back. “Kludged atop earlier code full of ‘deficiencies’ and ‘limited combat capability,’ the software's sixth and current revision still can’t keep the plane’s radar steady. Or tell a fault from a false failure indication.”


Replacing ALIS with another ALIS

Replacing ALIS with... another ALIS

“I expect it will be damn hard to launch missiles at bandits 60 miles away when ALIS is giving false-positive readings 80% of the time,” CAG comes back. “With 35 planes a year flapping off the Lockheed Martin assembly line, it seems awfully late to be discovering such basic flaws.” 


F-35C 1st catapult launch from USS Nimitz

F-35C Lightning IIz -Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brett Cote

“Whats the point? Carriers used to carry 90 fixed-wing airplanes. Now we’re carrying 53. As the air wings and the new jets have shrunk and degraded, so has their ability to deliver ordnance on target in the face of integrated air defences. Even worse, with an F-35C's combat radius barely 500 miles, this ship has to steam for 15 hours through a thousand nautical mile anti-ship missile gauntlet to get them close enough to shore for the surviving aircraft to hit something.” The exec shrugs. "Not gonna happen.”

Half-singing, CAG recites:

“How vulnerable are carriers…

How easy they are to sink…

Should we even have them at all?

If we’re going to end up in the drink?”

The captain’s murderous chuckle freaks out both deck officers. They instantly shut up. But the skipper’s thinking of the memo someone fired at Navy Secretary Ray Mabus regarding this big floating lemon: “It was clearly premature to include so many unproven technologies."


Down on the flight deck, as it runs up its single engine into reheat, a holdback bar restrains the straining jet. The pilot salutes – and smacks her gloved hand hard against the canopy. Ouch! The catapult officer snaps his arm down. 


The holdback drops free, unloading the nose strut. The F-35C pogo’s up and down. The cat fires. The oscillating jet hippity-hops down the flight deck. 


F-35C Lightning II Catapult Launch On Aircraft Carrier USS Nimitz

The pilot’s situational awareness blurs as kidney-flattening acceleration twists her heavy helmet off-kilter, blocking vital information streaming across her visor. This time, instead of the usual escatic cat shot orgasm, her profanity is piped throughout the ship. 


“Excessive vertical oscillation,” evaluators found, “make the F-35C operationally unsuitable for carrier operations.” 


Shit! The pilot doesn’t dare raise her hands to re-center her helmet. Is her jet slowing? She has no displays, no displ…   


Don’t think. Act! But Lt. Lindsey Anderson has cinched her harness so tight to counter the take-off oscillations… she can’t reach the ejection handles.


It’s fly or die time.

F-35C is out to launch


The big jet wobbles off the bow of the boat.


And vanishes from sight.


“HARD A’STARBOARD!” screams the OOD. “Get on the horn to the plane guard!”


The F-35 pops into view ahead of the ship, climbing away from the water as fast as her shaken pilot can fly.


“Belay that tin can. Come back on course,” Captain Hasley says quietly. “Launch the second bird.”


CAG stares down at the flight deck. Clicks the squawk box. “PriFly, Bridge. Pardon me for asking, but why is my second goddamn Ready-Alert Bird STILL PARKED?”


“Must be that time of the month,” Primary Flight comes back. “ALIS is not in the mood today. She’s showing an error indication and has locked out number two from starting. Ditto three and four.”  


“PriFly, Bridge. This is the captain. GET ME A JET! They can’t all be down.”


“Ah, yessir. No sir. Actually, only half our F-35s are down for maintenance and repair. How about a Hellcat?”


Never mind those old Pacific War prop-jobs, the captain thinks. Just give me back my Super HornetsThe Canadians were smart to cancel their F-35 orders and go with upgraded F/A-18s.


“Bridge, CIC. The bluesuiters have a flight of four 35A’s transiting from Atsugi to Clarke.”




“With air-to-air. Eight less missiles to send by the garbage haulers.”


“Divert them. Tell the flight leader we’ve got a destroyer missing. Possibly sunk by hostiles. I need a visual on its last position and any unusual Spratley activity. Do not engage unless fired upon.”


Go ask ALIS -Lockheed Martin

Go ask ALIS -Lockheed Martin

“Flight leader reports they’ve got to land and deal with ALIS first.” 


“Screw ALIS!”


“Actually, it’s the other way ‘round, captain. Before the aircraft can fly missions, onboard data from the squadron’s main Autonomic Logistics Information System computers at Atsugi have to be changed to Clarke field to handle mission data uploads.”


“How long will that take?”


“One to four days, sir. For each plane.”




That’s actually much faster, captain, once the IT techies reduced the security settings on Internet Explorer so ALIS can log in. Along with Chinese hackers and damn near anyone else with an internet connection.”


“So, for a squadron of 12 airplanes, how long before they can fly missions from Clarke?”


“Two weeks, sir.”


“This war will be OVER in two weeks!”

How do you start this thing?

The exec takes a breath, hadn’t known they were at war, adds, “They also need updated MDLs.”


Mission Data Loads are huge mission-critical software files specifying all target and threat locations, together with each individual electronic “signature” and all relevant mapping gouge. Without accurate, up-to-date MDLs, the F-35 cannot find targets or evade and counter threats. Nor can it carry out its vaunted networking and “sensor fusion” functions. 


“How long to upload those MDLs?”


“Sir, the required data inputs are massive.”


“How LONG?”


“Ah, with only one reprogramming lab back Stateside… about 15 months before those -35A’s can support us over the Spratleys.” 


“Oh, that’s fine then,” the captain says, smiling grimly. “We’ll wait.”


Everyone on the bridge looks up.


“At the bottom of the GODDAMN OCEAN!”


“Sir,” CAG comes in. “Those Atsugi -35’s are diverting to assist us anyway. They still have shoreside radar vectoring and magnetic compasses. And enough gas for one pass.”   


“CIC, bridge. Any bandits in the area?”


“We’re only painting the -35’s IFFS, captain. There’s nothing else in…”


Four dart-like shapes hurtle low across the flight deck, their trailing sonic booms rattling radars, eyeballs and ovaries. 


“Chengdu’s!” a lookout belatedly and redundantly shouts.  


“Tell the air force to get these gomers off us!” the captain shouts. “Weapons free! Weapons free!”


“But sir, they haven’t fired on us,” protests the exec.


“You want to wait until they do, mister? Tell those zoomies to engage!”


F-35 -Reuter

“Bridge, PriFly. We’ve got two thirsty jets inbound.”


“Stand by to recover aircraft!” the loudspeaker rasps. “Stand by to recover two aircraft low on gas.”


“Pass the word to those four air force -35s now!” The captain turns to CAG. “What’s the status of our Advanced Arresting Gear?”


CAG holds up both hands. “Sir, I know the deck cables are supposed to last 16,500 landings without failure. And I know they have to be changed out after 20. These will be… (he checks the board) landings 25 and 26. There just hasn’t been ti…”


“And the tailhooks on those two incoming jets?” 


“The hook attachment on the 35’s arresting gear is wearing out three-times faster than it’s supposed to, captain. Five allowable landings instead of 15. Lockheed is going to fix…”


“When? NOW? In mid-air? Before those two birds get here?”


“Ah, not likely, sir. They’re still redesigning it.” 


“Bridge, PriFly. That new dual-band radar has just gone down again. We can’t track the inbound planes. They’ll have to fly the meatball without any hand-holding.”


CAG’s confident that his pilots can get over the ramp using the mirror landing system. After that, with critical arresting gear components past due for maintenance, trapping aboard successfully will be even more of a crap shoot. 

Meanwhile, with Raytheon’s over-ambitious radar FUBAR’d, the ship’s Combat Information Center can’t scan sea and skies for potential threats. Or generate targeting data for the carrier’s weapons systems. “I’ve got a bad feel…” 

“Belay that,” snaps the captain as the returning F-35s flick into the overhead break. Tailhooks come down as both Lightnings flash past the ship’s starboard side at 800 feet. Banking sharply downwind, the first jet drops gear and flaps and continues the turn inbound. 

At 450 feet, with the pilot’s Approach Indexer showing the proper “DONUT", the heavy jet drops into the groove astern of an angled runway that appears to be sliding away from him. It's alarmingly too short. But he’s got to arrive "on speed" over the ass end of the boat at 140-ish knots and thread an invisible box about 10-feet-square.

His gas hog might not have enough juice for a wave-off. But at least it isn't dark out. And raining hard. With big, random gusts.

His wing man is 45 seconds behind him.



Flight of 4 F-35s


“Red Rider flight, this is lead. Drop your drawers.”


“Roger, lead,” two, three and four come back. 


“Cooling our jets,” three cracks. Bye-bye stealth, he thinks, hitting the switch. 


Flying at 25,000 feet and 500 knots, the costliest fighter jets on the planet have to open their weapons bay doors every 10 minutes to avoid overheating an aircraft so crammed with hot computers, circulating its own jet fuel through internal pipes – like a car radiator filled with gasoline – causes the jet juice to keep heating up. An F-35 turbine can’t even burn warm fuel from tanker trucks sitting in the sun… 


We must show up like an erupting volcano on any gomer’s eBay infrared scanner, number three worries.


“Red Riders, lead. Temps coming down. Button up. Two, you got these guys?”


“Lead from two. You’re seeing what I’m seeing. Six fast-movers extending southeast. They’re already painting us!”


“Negative, two. My plot shows four bandits climbing toward us.”


The Multifunction Advanced Data Link is supposed to take all sensor inputs from each plane and combine them into a single, shared view of the surrounding “battlespace”. Instead, the Multi-alfunctioning Data Link often creates erroneous or doubled-images. Or no targeting icons at all.


“Lead, three. I’m painting eight – repeat eight – bandits on my helmet display. They must have caught our dirty configuration. They're diving to intercept. Not climbing.”


“Cycle your radar, three.”


Sure enough, a readout flashes, Radar Degrade. Even as three looks, it changes to Radar Fail. “ALIS, you bitch.” The pilot reaches down to turn the costly piece of shit off and back on again.


F-35 goes zoom -Ap

“Missile launch! Missile launch!” lead calls out. “Break into him! Chaff and flares!”


“Which way? Where is he?” three calls. “My radar’s Murphied.”


“Right! Break right!” lead calls the suddenly lonesome jet – just as a long-range air-to-air missile rips it apart.


“Eject! Eject!” 


Fighting heavy G-forces in the wildly spinning jet, the stricken pilot reaches up and pulls the blast curtain down over his face. The seat fires with the force of a mortar shell. That heavy trick-helmet snaps his neck. He’s dead before his seat clears the canopy rail.

woman pilots f-35

Woman, heavily armed

Flying for her life, lead is trying to look everywhere at once as her own experimental $600,000 helmet crowds her visor with symbols and data. With rearward visibility blocked by cockpit structure, six video cameras positioned around the plane’s exterior keep feeding the helmet display so the pilot can supposedly "see" in any direction – even straight down. But hazy, lagging video obscures real world lethality.


Here she is under attack watching a crappy TV! 

Stuttering with latency, the fuzzily smeared images are no better than the feeds from those circling Predators raining Hellfire on all those Afghan wedding parties. 


Her Mark I eyeballs are much higher-rez. But her visor’s so filled with rapidly changing numbers and symbols – and the stealth-coated canopy is so distorting – she can’t see dick. 


“Lead, this is three. I’m showing no bandits on my radar. You still have them?” 


“My helmet is fully FUBAR'd,” lead comes back. Humidity is degrading her display, forcing her to fly in close to get a clear shot. Except her view of the target is still blocked by the fast-changing clutter displayed on her visor. But that doesn’t matter, because the jittering targeting symbols are too unstable to track the bandit!


Reaching down, she switches off most of the sensor and computer inputs, reverting her babbling jet to a basic Piper Cub. That’s better. But she still can’t see her six.


“Those are carrier jets!” someone shouts.

“BREAK RIGHT!” another pilot screams.


Chinese J-20 F-35 improvement?


Every American pilot slams their stick over. But lead is nearly killed by a limiting flight software “fix”. To prevent overstressing the futuristic airplane, her sharp stick command is “translated” into a gentler turn. 


Without warning, the jet’s wingtip drops suddenly  another F-35 quirk  nearly throwing her into a spin. 


It also throws off the pursuing pilot’s aim. 


Maybe she can get a missile shot, At least her jet doesn’t need an entirely redesigned outer wing like the navy’s C-model, because their folding wingtips cannot support the weight of short-range air-to-air missiles essential in air combat at “knife-fighting” range. 


Sparkling cannon shells zip prettily past her jet. 


Break left, I mean right!

-Matt Cardy/Getty

The F-35s break hard and pull for altitude, their pilots straining to spot the adversary who’s snuck into their leader’s blind spot. 


There! An F-35 look-alike wearing a Red Star. Except the lighter, longer-legged Chinese knock-off is a faster, more maneuverable version if their own jets. Three more of the radar-invisible jets are flying off their leader’s wings.


The seven remaining jets merge in a furball of hurtling shapes. Too close for missiles, the air force pilots go to guns. Lead’s wingman lines up one of the Chinese jets and hits the firing button. Instantly, the add-on Gatling gun module flips out from the side of the nose. But ALIS hates gunfire. The gun doesn’t shoot. 




Two more Chengdus jump the wingman. 


A trailing American fighter fires a burst as they hurtle past. But when his add-on gun module drops into the slipstream, its turbulence jerks the F-35’s nose off the aimpoint. 


Both attacking J-20s climb vertically and break in opposite yo-yos, trying to bleed off speed and drop back down behind the Yankee air pirate and take the shot. 


The pursued American jerks his nose up to engage the leader. His F-35’s “excellent” yet somehow still  “insufficient pitch rate” starts to park the nose on that departing bad boy. But airframe buffeting throws his aim off.


Red Rider lead keeps bumping her bulky helmet against the canopy trying to identify threats. But that blind spot directly aft invites another rickshaw driver to sneak up behind her.


With her jet slowing rapidly at high-angle of attack, Lt. Sandra Parker senses trouble astern and stomps the left rudder pedal. Wearing twin rudders, one thing the F-35 can do is execute an outstanding rudder reversal at slow speeds. 



Before she can say, “Eat shit and die!” flipping the fuselage sideways to the airstream drains so much of her aircraft’s energy, the Red Chinese jet runs right into her. Both planes blow up like an airshow stunt gone horribly awry.


We have no business fighting another aircraft within visual range, the fourth American pilot thinks as a pursuing J-20s misjudges his closure rate and overshoots. The F-35 jockey horses back on the stick and hoses the sky. Hit! The Chinese pilot ejects just before his plane explodes.


Nose high, the F-35 slows so abruptly its second pursuer also rockets past. “I’ve got three of the bastards cornered!” four calls. At point-blank range, his quad-barrel Gatling spits out rounds – and stops firing. Out of ammo! An A-10 carries 1,100 womb-warping Depleted Uranium shells. The F-35 load out is just 220 smaller DU rounds. 




Now the F-35 is flying so slowly it’s dog meat for the gomer’s wingman. “Come on, turn!” shouts that jet jockey. His jet does. But the trailing J-20 easily slides inside and, like the Red Baron of old… rat-a-tat-tat!!!


Red Baron downs F-35



Back aboard the carrier, everyone on the bridge hears a frantic, “I’ve got three of ‘em cornered!” A rattle of cannon shell strikes. Then static.


“Launch everything we’ve got,” Captain Hasley tells CAG.  

 “All flyable C's.”

“Radar’s back online!” someone shouts. 


“That could take a while, captain. Both electromagnetic elevators are taking a break from… electromagnetics." 

Following the emphatic arm movements of the brightly jersey’d deck boss, a Lightning II moves off the main elevator and taxis toward the left-hand catapult. And bursts into flames! 


Compressor blade hitting the engine casing, CAG thinks. Like that -35 at Eglin. Doesn’t anyone at Lockheed own a measuring tape?


“Fire forward on the flight deck! Fire forward on the flight deck. Now all damage control and fire parties lay forward. all damage control and… ”


“CIC, bridge! Incoming missiles! Big bastards! Dong Fengs! Three Carrier Killers.”


“Bridge, CIC. Belay ‘Carrier Killers’. Our AEGIS will take them out,” Captain Hasley says. Thinks, Here we go. I stuck my neck out protesting sending Ford and a few escorts inside China’ thousand-miles of missile-ensured area denial. But the CIC's in love with carriers. Likes to send us everywhere. A few runs inside China’s Great Wall air defence barrier at the northern end of the Taiwan Strait and now we’re ready to commit suicide down south. 



Miles away on the edge of the screen, a pair of AEGIS cruisers ripple-fire a volley of anti-missile missiles. Even at that distance, the multiple launches come like thunderclaps.


“Signal the formation, CORPEN,” the carrier captain orders. 


The yeomen bends to the bitch box. “All ships. All ships. CORPEN… CORPEN… execute.”


From their high perch, the watchstanders on the carrier’s bridge eye each ship in column reverse course in succession. Except one.


“What’s he doing?” the captain demands.


“CIC, Bridge. Not ours, captain. Looks like a container vessel making for the Spratley's. Converging cours...”


“And you’re telling me this NOW? What’s Fitz doing?”


“Getting run down, sir,” the OOD replies as the onrushing commercial vessel tries frantically to steer clear – and cuts the American destroyer nearly in half. 


“Whose side is he on?” the exec says.


US Navy ship crunched

Back to Part 1. 

See my enthusiastic endorsement of the F-35!



 发件人     William Thomas 2018