After distastefully joking to a crowd of Puerto Ricans devastated by Hurricane Maria that they were taking up too much of the budget, Trump later proudly announced in a military briefing that he would be rewarding the armed forces for their relief efforts on the island by ordering “hundreds of millions of dollars” in F-35s that you “literally can’t see.”
Here’s the quote from President Trump as reported by defense reporter Dave Brown:
It should be obvious that you can, in fact, “literally” see all known examples of the F-35 stealth Joint Strike Fighters. Either Trump just declassified that the U.S. military has developed advanced light cloaking technology which was previously unreported, or he meant you can’t see the planes on radar, or perhaps he was in an empty hangar when stealth technology was explained to him and just assumed the planes were also in the room.
Here is President Trump standing with the plane in question just last month:
The recently-approved $688 billion defense budget does account for $845 million for four carrier-capable F-35C fighters for the U.S. Navy, $2.8 billion for 20 F-35B fighters for the U.S. Marines, and $5.4 billion for 46 F-35A fighters for the U.S. Air Force. Again, these are all planes that physically reflect light visible to the human eye.
Like the F-117 and F-22, the F-35’s stealth capability greatly reduces, but does not eliminate, its radar cross-section, the signal that radar receivers see bouncing back off an airplane. The plane looks smaller on radar – perhaps like a bird rather than a plane – but is not invisible. The F-35 is designed to be stealthy primarily in the X-band, the radar frequency range most commonly used for targeting in air-to-air combat.
In other radar frequencies, the F-35 is not so stealthy, making it vulnerable to being tracked and shot down using current – and even obsolete – weapons. As far back as 1999 the same type of stealth technology was not able to prevent a U.S. Air Force F-117 flying over Kosovo from being located, tracked and shot down using an out-of-date Soviet radar and surface-to-air missile system. In the nearly two decades since, that incident has been studied in depth not only by the U.S., but also by potential adversaries seeking weaknesses in passive radar stealth aircraft.
A report in 2012 from Aviation Week on Israel’s deal to update its own air force with the F-35A claimed the Israeli military anticipated the stealth technology of the plane to only have a short lifetime of “five to 10 years.”
Unfortunately the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter does not have any sort of visual invisibility capability, and its stealth capabilities only seem to have a shelf life of about a decade—and that’s operating within only specific radar frequencies. It is, in summary, not an invisible plane, just as the proposed border wall will also not be invisible despite Trump’s comments.
The F-35 is, however, an incredibly expensive and extremely troublesome project that has hovered like a thick shadow over the Pentagon since the start of its development. Perhaps the President owes the Pentagon the same inflammatory remarks about its budgeting that he’s been dishing the devastated people of Puerto Rico as they suffer from a catastrophic lack of electricity, drinking water and aid.