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Congress, Pentagon Must Re-Evaluate F-35 in Light of Serious Deficiencies

Navy maintainers stand by a grounded F-35
Navy maintainers stand by a grounded F-35 (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

A Project On Government Oversight (POGO) analysis of the F-35’s capabilities describes how the fighter can’t perform one of its key advertised missions—a failure that POGO says should prompt Congress and the Pentagon to conduct a complete re-evaluation of the $1.4 trillion program.

POGO’s analysis, which relied on a recent report by an F-35 test pilot, provides more evidence that the F-35’s demonstrated performance is inferior to the current fighters it is designed to replace. Specifically, the test pilot’s report, which was first cited by War is Boring, finds that, in a series of 17 dogfights, the F-35 was consistently outmatched by an aging F-16.

“This test report proves the problems with the F-35 program are fundamental and systemic. It’s time to pull the brake before ramping up production to make sure taxpayers aren’t paying more for less,” said Dan Grazier, the Jack Shanahan Fellow working with POGO’s Straus Military Reform Project.

This spring, the Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) issued a report on the numerous risks of the F-35, from its vulnerability to lightning strikes to the inaccurate and unstable software system of the plane. Moreover, the F-35’s unprecedented complexity and the corresponding unreliability and significant maintenance burdens prevent it from flying often enough to adequately train pilots, turning the plane into a “hangar queen.” The plane will have limited operational availability for flight training because maintenance crews will find it difficult to keep up with the inevitable mechanical failures. In addition to the test pilot’s report, the most recent DOT&E report, the F-35A has only been able to fly 55 percent of its planned flying hours because maintenance crews cannot repair failed aircraft systems any faster. 

With production of the fighter set to “ramp-up,” the issues that have been raised merit a reconsideration of the program, despite the “too big to fail” procurement plan being pushed by the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin. Without a rational and conservative reassessment of the program, the Pentagon will face a growing defense budget shortfall and the potential for disastrous failures in combat for American warfighters in the air and on the ground, according to POGO’s analysis.

Read POGO’s analysis on the Straus Military Reform Project website.

By: Iulia Gheorghiu
Former Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Photo of Iulia Gheorghiu At the time of publication, Iulia was the Beth Daley Impact Fellow at the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Government Accountability, National Security

Related Content: F-16, F-35

Authors: Iulia Gheorghiu

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