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The Over Budget and Behind Schedule F-35

In a Vanity Fair feature published yesterday, Adam Ciralsky investigates the F-35 aircraft, or Joint Strike Fighter, that was meant to streamline and update the military’s fleet of planes. When Ciralsky first saw the jet he said he “didn’t know whether to genuflect or spit.”

His reaction is understandable. The plane offers hopes of a futuristic military combat system with technologies far superior to what we have now. But it’s also seven years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget. When first conceived in 2001, each F-35 was supposed to cost $81 million. In his piece “The Jet That Ate the Pentagon” POGO’s Winslow Wheeler puts the true cost of the airplane at $219 million or more per copy.

So what went wrong? In 2001, Lockheed Martin won a valuable government contract worth an estimated $233 billion to create the plane. Instead of testing the plane’s various aspects before production, Lockheed Martin decided to use a practice called concurrency–producing and testing the plane at the same time.

As of now, the planes can’t drop bombs and have only 2% of the necessary coding to be used in combat. During testing, pilots have ended up abandoning their futuristic helmets mid-flight due to the confusion they cause. The planes also can’t fly in inclement weather, something a  $60,000 Cessna can do.

Another basic question: why hasn’t the government stepped in to keep Lockheed Martin on track? Ciralsky believes it’s due to an expensive and brilliantly conceived manipulation of our political system.

The political process that keeps the Joint Strike Fighter airborne has never stalled. The program was designed to spread money so far and so wide—at last count, among some 1,400 separate subcontractors, strategically dispersed among key congressional districts—that no matter how many cost overruns, blown deadlines, or serious design flaws, it would be immune to termination. It was, as bureaucrats say, “politically engineered.

POGO has reported on the problematic F-35 in the past. Recommendations include cancelling the more expensive and problematic variants of the F-35 and replacing them with proven, less expensive systems. Wheeler, though, believes the project should be abandoned all together. He wrote in Foreign Policy, “There is only one thing to do with the F-35: Junk it. America’s air forces deserve a much better aircraft, and the taxpayers deserve a much cheaper one. The dustbin awaits.”

Read the rest of the article in Vanity Fair to see how just how bad the F-35 program has become.

By: Avery Kleinman
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Avery Kleinman At the time of publication Avery Kleinman was the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Contractor Accountability, Defense, DOD Oversight, Joint Strike Fighter, Wasteful Defense Spending

Authors: Avery Kleinman

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