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Illustration: 731; Photograph: Courtesy U.S. Air Force


Is the F-35 a Trillion-Dollar Mistake?

Trump criticized the cost of America’s warplane of the future, but what he’s not saying is that it might be hackable and leave soldiers vulnerable.

A pointy-beaked F-35B Lightning II idles noisily on a runway at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in southern Maryland. Suddenly the plane roars to life and sprints a mere 300 feet before abruptly lifting off and soaring into a cloudless, late-winter sky over Chesapeake Bay. A while later it zooms back into view, slows to a hover over the runway like a helicopter, then drops straight down to the concrete, where it lands with a gentle bounce.

A U.S. Marine Corps test pilot is manning the controls. If he were Air Force or Navy, his version of the military’s highly anticipated new fighter jet wouldn’t have this capacity to take off and land on a dime—though it would come with other custom features. This is why Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, who’s in charge of overseeing the acquisition of the F-35, brought three plastic models of the fighter jet to a December 2016 meeting with Donald Trump at his Florida residence.