POGO: F-35 “Deal” Unlikely to Result in Savings

An F-35 Lightning II, from the 461th Flight Test Squadron, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., receives fuel from a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, from the 151st Air Fueling Wing, Utah Air National Guard, Feb. 22, 2012. The 151st Air Refueling Wing routinely supports air operations across the western United States. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Following President Donald Trump’s announcement today that Lockheed Martin has cut $600 million from the F-35 program, Dan Grazier, the Jack Shanahan Fellow at POGO’s Straus Military Reform Project, said:

“Although this appears to be a victory for those concerned about out-of-control costs of the F-35 program, these savings don’t really exist. The American people will end up paying even more for the unproven jets in the future.

The so-called savings announced today are little more than the bulk-rate discount for the next yearly purchase of 90 aircraft. If this 'concession' is predicated on committing taxpayers to a multiyear buy, it will only further compound the waste of public funds on this program.

The problem with this deal is the planes purchased, and any others bought in the foreseeable future, will be nothing more than under-developed prototypes with little actual usefulness in combat, leaving taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars for retrofits and design changes.

POGO believes that, at a minimum, future F-35 purchases should be delayed until the program successfully completes the initial operational test and evaluation process. Only then will policymakers have the necessary information to make an informed decision as to whether this program is in the best interests of the American people."

BACKGROUND

Lockheed Martin hasn’t yet completed the development process for the F-35 program. Despite the phony combat readiness declarations by the Marine Corps and the Air Force, the F-35 is still incapable of performing nearly all combat missions it is intended to perform. A clear statement of the F-35’s limitations can be found in the Pentagon’s top testing office’s response to the Air Force’s Initial Operational Capability announcement:

“If used in combat, the F-35 in the Block 3i configuration, which is equivalent in capabilities to Block 2B, will need support to locate and avoid modern threats, acquire targets, and engage formations of enemy fighter aircraft due to outstanding performance deficiencies and limited weapons carriage availability.”

It could take as long as three years for Lockheed Martin to finish simply developing the F-35. Realistic combat testing which starts after that process is completed, will take another four years potentially depending on the number of problems identified, fixed, and retested. At that rate, we may not know if the F-35 can perform in combat until 2024.

In the meantime, the Pentagon would have the American people buy more immature jets. All of them would later need to be sent back to the manufacturer to be upgraded with all the modifications identified during later development and testing at an enormous cost to the taxpayers. This is why concurrency is a bad deal. Each additional aircraft purchased before the development and testing process is completed only compounds the problem.

Photograph of Mandy Smithberger

By: Mandy Smithberger, Director, CDI Straus Military Reform Project

Mandy Smithberger is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight.

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