Blog, Product Management

The F-35 Fighter is a huge Product Management mistake

F35 Fighter Jet sunset

Lack of feature prioritization, contrasting project goals, toxic procurement management, extreme redundancies. These and many other problems marked the way of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. More than $391 billions (and counting!) for a not-so-well designed warplane that will be obsolete before its final delivery.

How could this have happened in the most militarily powerful country on earth?

I am going to tell you a story about a plane and bad Product Management.

 

The F-35 Fighter fails saga

  1. The F-35 Fighter is a huge Product Management mistake
  2. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!
  3. How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
  4. Chinese do it better

 

The F-35 Fighter jet project was born officially in 1993, when the US forces agreed on replacing all their current different fighter families with a multi-purpose all-in-one swiss-knife new model. The project goal was very ambitious, given the peculiarity of the various tactical aircrafts in use by the US corps. It quickly converted into the most expensive military program ever developed, due to the complexity and the number of the new features it introduced.

The new F-35 Lightning II will be the first STOVL, stealth and supersonic airplane in the world. Still, it will probably be less functional than most of the new Chinese and Russian jet models. During a controversial war simulation by the RAND think-tank, it resulted in inferior acceleration, inferior climb rate and inferior sustained turn capability than any modern Russian/Chinese fighter (booh!). In the final report they concluded “[It] Also has lower top speed. Can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run”.

This is not exactly what they expected from a $160 million aircraft.

Top Gun Maverick

Replacing air legends like the F-16, F-14 (remember Top Gun?) and F/A-18, built with technology from the ’70s, was supposed to be a relatively simple task. However, with the Joint Strike Forces (JSF) program they decided to go much further.

When the US Government received three different requests from the military corps for updating their fighter jets, they thought that it would be wise to collect the three requests and merging it into a single one (because, why not?). There is no record of the meeting where this decision was taken, but it was probably something like this:

Donald, what do you think about these three requests? Should we develop three different programs with different budgets and teams?

Hell no George, I am sure we can save some money merging the three programs together!

But are we sure that the Air Forces, the Navy and the Marines have the same needs? Also I think that by investing all of our resources in one single program, we are raising the risk of a catastrophic failure..

Oh c’mon George, don’t be a bad factor! Everything will be just fine.

Shouldn’t we at least dig a little deeper in order to prove that our hypotheses are correct?

There is no time. Let’s just do it!

This poor decision-making process led to a catastrophic series of mistakes that still haunt this unique project. More than 2000 engineers worked on bad feature-requests, rising project time and cost exponentially. Even the Chinese managed to do it better. Just sayin’…

Now keep reading the F-35 Fighter fails saga and discover how these guys totally messed it all up.

  1. The F-35 Fighter is a huge Product Management mistake
  2. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!
  3. How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
  4. Chinese do it better

Photo by Stephen Wilkes.

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