Faster than Sound and Undetectable by Radar
The United States’ F-35 program has had significant political and economic effects both at home and abroad. In a recent opinion piece for CNBC, political and economic analyst Jake Novak tackled the broad implications for the Middle East of an Israeli flight and stealth upgrade to the plane. We sat down with him for further details.
Q: The F-35 program has had significant political impact in The Middle East. Of course, this program was expected to have far-reaching implications, but was such a large effect in the Middle East intended or anticipated?
A: No. When the program first started, it was understood that it would have some impact, but that it still would not be a tremendous leap over the F-22 Raptor. About a year before it went into service, stories came out that the Israelis had gotten some hands-on experience and had found a way to double its existing stealth capacity, meaning they could fly to and from Tehran undetected. While a flight over Tehran isn’t confirmed, people believe it occured, which is causing significant impact.
Q: Is Iran being backed into a corner? Going forward, how do we expect them to respond to increased military pressure from programs like the F-35?
A: It’s causing them to flail. The Iranians are focusing on the things that won’t come into the purview of the F-35: harassing shipping, for example. There’s not much the F-35 can do about that. So, they have been pushed into doing things that won’t lead to contact with the F-35. They’ve tried to get the S-400 missile system, but nobody even knows if it’s effective against the F-35. Russia decided not to sell the S-400 to Iran anyway, because it would’ve angered Israel and the US, and Russia didn’t want to pay that price. They have no defense against the F-35 and no hope because they don’t have the S-400. So, they’ll do other things like using small gun boats to harass shipping.
Q: Overall, should the F-35 be seen as a stabilizing or destabilizing force in the Middle East?
A: The F-35 is yet another weapon system that accomplishes a lot without having to fire a shot. It’s been used on a number of missions to knock out Hezbollah missiles, for example. Not one civilian has been killed by an F-35. It’s strong enough to be a deterrent for air-based military conflict, especially with Iran. I’m not sure it’s necessarily stabilizing, but it’s reducing the option for violent conflict. Many people think a bigger, more powerful weapon means more people will die, but in reality it means fewer people will die because nobody wants the weapon to be used. Eventually a counter-measure will be invented, but the window is very wide and can take a long time.
Q: In another CNBC article, the acquisition cost of the F-35 was valued at $406.5 billion dollars. For many people, that sum is unacceptable. Do you think that the impact of the F-35 in the Middle East truly justifies the cost, and what do you say to people that have a tough time swallowing that price tag?
A: The impact justifies it. Without having to fire a shot, this program saves thousands of lives. I think it’s quite valuable. Now, there’s nothing wrong with trying to talk down the price, but they need to be careful about how they do it. For example, they can say, ‘for economic reasons alone, we think you can lower the price for this thing. You’re making a huge profit from it.’ I don’t think we can talk about the things that have gone wrong in a discussion about the price.
Q: Lockheed Martin has been doing very well, which is certainly being influenced by the F-35 program and the Israeli stealth enhancement. However, that said, how much of a role is hype playing? There are still many that believe the plane is riddled with issues and not yet ready for war. Can we expect Lockheed Martin to continue its run upwards, or will these problems eventually bungle it down?
A: We’re coming off of an extraordinary run in world-wide defense funding. The Iran nuclear deal worried a tremendous number of countries around the world. Now that’s starting to quiet down a little bit, so Lockheed might take a little bit of a breather. The trade war with China is also shining a big light on that we’ve been approving large-scale mergers, which has been benefiting Lockheed Martin. Our argument was based in what Europe and China were doing. However, if we’re doing a better job of putting tariffs on stuff from China, we don’t actually need to have so much consolidation.
Lockheed Martin’s future in the next few years will not be tied to the F-35. You know what they say: you buy on the rumor, and you sell in the news. The investment gains to be made from the F-35 have already been realized. Now they need to adjust to a world with more competition and perhaps a reduction in defense spending—not because things have gotten peaceful, but because they’ve spent the money already.
Written by Daniel DiPietro, Edited by Grace Kelman & Alexander Fleiss