Maslow’s Hammer: How will the F-35 affect foreign policy?

sdd_f35testc_059In a 2007 interview with former General Wesley Clark, he described how Rumsfeld told him (on the 20th September 2001), “We’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” The reasons for these vast, and potentially catastrophic, actions were vague, however Rumsfeld noted that the US had a strong military, ‘“I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

The danger of finding problems that fit your tool is known as the ‘Law of the instrument’ or ‘Maslow’s hammer’. This idea was expressed in 1964 by the American philosopher Abraham Kaplan as: “Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”

As we have mentioned before, military plans and military inventories are not independent bodies. The aircraft your air force chooses will to a large extent dictate how you can use your air force. The ramifications of armed unmanned aircraft have been well-explored (such as in the excellent Wired for War by P. W. Singer), the consequences of stealth aircraft less so.

In attempting to justify the F-35, some have hinted at breakthrough technologies onboard the aircraft that are classified and enormously impressive. While all F-35 claims can be taken with a grain of salt (remember the Lockheed Martin boast of superior kinematics to any 4th generation fighter?) it seems likely that one of these technologies is electromagnetic-pulse based.

This development has entered the White world in several recent projects, notably the Boeing Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP). These weapons use microwave radiation to fry enemy electronics, crippling computers or even knocking the power system out for an entire building (it should also be noted that missiles contain electronics). Other possible candidates for ‘technology-X’ on the F-35 include extremely aggressive electronic attack modes to disable enemy radars, including computer virus insertion. If this were the case, it would combine with the F-35’s low-observability to produce an ‘asymmetric fighter’ capable of Black ops. As with unmanned aircraft, this could led to small scale military operations without the bother of international accountability. The F-35, which will inevitably serve in smaller numbers than now anticipated, will not be well suited to 21st century offensive warfare’s central mission of close air support. Though it may well excel in the other important modern role: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). The F-35 to was conceived excel in Desert Storm-style warfare, it was to be used in blitzkrieg (later, and with added emphasis on the psychological, known by the revealingly repulsive term ‘shock and awe’) operations.

Israel is expected to receive its first F-35s in 2016. The Israeli air force has a long history of surprise air attacks on enemies or potential enemies outside of declared wars— at the risk of losing aircraft, and thus deniability and national prestige. If the F-35 performs as advertised (to use a cliche that has long attached itself to the programme) then it would by the ideal aircraft for Israel to threaten or attack Iran.

For other F-35 users, especially in NATO, the type’s usage- with its emphasis on off-base, centralised maintenance and sealed box components — will make it further apparent that their air forces are little more than ancillary wings of USAF. Whereas today it would be hard to conduct prolonged military operations without US consent (considering the large amount of US technology used by all NATO nations), in the days of the F-35 it would be impossible.

Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

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