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A Big Week for the F-35?

F-35 Fighter Jet

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Even if the mainstream U.S. media has been late in coming to the story, the largest defense program in U.S. history is facing two critical events this coming week.

As major British media has been reporting for some time, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may be facing a major international marketing embarrassment: It has failed to show up for two of three scheduled (and much ballyhooed) public demonstrations in the United Kingdom. Now, it may miss the main event, a flying demonstration before the world’s aviation community at the Farnborough International Airshow, starting Monday. You see, the F-35 is grounded—again. An engine blew up on take-off at Eglin Air Force Base on June 23 and reportedly burned up much of the plane’s flammable, plastic composite rear fuselage and tail. No F-35s are flying until inspectors know what the problem is and can say it’s safe to fly—at least in the very limited regimes the F-35 has been cleared for. Moreover, even if the F-35 is released to participate at Farnborough, there may be a new problem: weather predictions for next week in England are not good, and the F-35 has real issues flying near thunder- and rainstorms; it even has problems with wet runways.

Stuck at home or coddled in UK hangars, the timing could not be worse for F-35 advocates. This Tuesday, the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC-D) will mark up its 2015 Defense Appropriations bill, and more than the usual routine approval of the Pentagon’s F-35 budget request is at stake. As pointed out in two timely commentaries (one by the Center for International Policy’s William Hartung and a second by Taxpayers for Common Sense’s Ryan Alexander), the House Appropriations Committee larded onto the already gigantic $8.3 billion request by adding four unrequested F-35s, costing an extra $479 million.

The four added planes are clearly at risk given the F-35’s self-embarrassment at Eglin, surely inspiring the F-35 talking points Lockheed is planting on the Members of the SAC-D well beyond their usual spinmeister fantasies on cost and performance. Worse, there could—at least theoretically—arise a critic of the F-35 in the membership of the SAC-D who might try to take real action on the F-35, beyond the rhetorical hyperbole that critics like Senator John McCain (R-AZ) have been hurling at the F-35. Imagine the shock and awe if some Member were to offer a meaningful amendment requiring the F-35 to be tested—actually imposing “fly-before-buy”—before a few hundred more mistake-laden jets are produced.

Not to worry: the F-35 defenders are rushing to the rescue. Beyond whatever election year financing promises major F-35 contractors Lockheed-Martin, Northrop-Grumman, and Pratt & Whitney may be distributing to keep the program on track, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has just completed a baby-kissing exercise for the airplane. Travelling to Eglin Air Force Base where that F-35 destroyed itself, Hagel declared “This aircraft is the future of fighter aircraft for all our services,”  thereby removing any notions that his junket might have some useful purpose other than showing fealty to the beleaguered F-35 program. Any expectation that he went to Eglin to exercise oversight of the F-35’s recurring embarrassments, as one might expect from a functioning Secretary of Defense, has been thoroughly excised. That leaves it up to the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The SAC-D has many important defense spending decisions to make. None will be a better test of whether the committee is willing to conform DOD program ambitions to Pentagon budget realities than this point in the endless F-35 drama. Of course, the easy road beckons; defense business-as-usual will be happy to shower the Members with handsome signs of approval, material and otherwise.

Unfortunately, more of the same simply accelerates the decay of our defenses at ever-higher expense.

All eyes are turning to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee. Thus far, political support for the F-35 has rolled over every ground truth, but realities like multiple groundings occurring amidst a continuing torrent of technical failures and cost overruns have a relentlessness all their own. Perhaps the only real question is when, not if, the politicians in Congress and the Pentagon will succumb to the inevitable tide. If next week does not end up as a tipping point for the F-35, it will come. It will come. And, that will be long before we buy the 2,433 Lockheed and its other boosters dream of.

Image from the Department of Defense.

By: Winslow Wheeler
Director, Straus Military Reform Project, CDI at POGO, POGO

Winslow Wheeler, Director, Straus Military Reform Project, Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight Mr. Wheeler's areas of expertise include Congress, the Defense Budget, National Security, Pentagon Reform and Weapons Systems

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Congressional Oversight, F-35, Federal Acquisition, Defense, Wasteful Defense Spending

Authors: Winslow Wheeler

Submitted by Bob Shank Jr. at: July 13, 2014
I made a sincere effort so contact senate members at the link provided ( http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/subcommittee/defense). It doesn't work [Sorry, there was a problem with this link: http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/subcommittee/defense You can now continue to this website, or go back to the page you were on before. Remember, only follow links from sources you trust]. I'd very much like to register a response against continuing the continued manufacturing of the F-35 - a completely unnecessary aircraft, and a 'boondoggle' on American taxes. We have existing a/c which accomplish a much better and existing roll in providing ground support for extant troops on foreign soil, such as the A-10 Warthog. In addition we have a plethora of armed drones which have the same - even better - capabilities without the exhaustive tax-payer expense of such a multi-trillion-dollar-yet-worthless fighter(?) as the F-35 - which can't even justify its own existence. It's an electronic and manufacturing nightmare which hasn't even passed it's own preliminary tests! It can't even fly well in the rain without something going wrong. The USA doesn't need this fighter, it's problems or the financial burdens on taxpayers. This is a boondoggle of an effort by a defense contractor which never had the foresight of modern technology, and who is sink-or-swim financially (Lockheed). Nobody needs this lame, outdated aircraft which can't accomplish the job it was designed for and is sucking money by the hanger-full from taxpayers who'll never see a fully-filled mission from a single of it's progenitors. Dump this useless, over-expensive hog and set your sights on modern technology with already exists. How short-sighted and greedy are you???
Submitted by Dfens at: July 12, 2014
Yes, cancel the F-35 program -- because as POGO is always happy to tell you the next program will be better. The system works, it just didn't work this time for some unknown reason. The next program will be better and cheaper and will cook your eggs just the way you like them without that runny stuff on the white part that just looks gross. The next one will be better. We will do it right next time. Come on, people, say it with me now. The next program will be better. It always is, right?
Submitted by Dug at: July 12, 2014
Do we really need another massively expensive fighter to battle the Islamic Jihad Air Force?
Submitted by moonsquirel at: July 12, 2014
Please put an end to this terribly designed and significantly flawed aircraft. It has proven time and time again that it is a terrible waste of taxpayer's money!
Submitted by mbw750 at: July 12, 2014
This fighter jet is a outrageous waste of tax payer money. All Government officials evolved with this project should be fired. Government officials should not be able to spend tax payer money with out the consent of the people that pay for it, The United States Tax Payers. We need a big change in our Government, we need to eliminate big business and politicians from our Government. We need people that will listen to the wishes and wants of the people that pay for it, The United States Tax Payers.
Submitted by ijbtheterrible at: July 12, 2014
BOONDOGGLE from first and all but people making money opposed it.
Submitted by chris at: July 12, 2014
Why not just crowd source the damn thing? No more stolen taxpayer money.
Submitted by Inmytime at: July 12, 2014
When will WE the taxpayers hold these officials and the companies they are pimping hold them accountable???? Fly before buy should be the standard for every product the Pentagon purchases. Let the companies bear the burden. Or let Congress fund ALL social programs fully and then kiss the contractors rears. We cannot continue to accomodate this foolishness. Since China has stolen the plans to this very aircraft I wonder of they have worked out the bugs? Maybe we should buy them from China.

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