How Good is the World's Most Expensive Fighter Jet?

An F-35 Lightning II, marked AA-1, lands Oct. 23, 2014, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes

After years on the drawing boards and in testing labs, a new fighter plane is entering the U.S. arsenal. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is supposed to help the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines replace their fleet of aging aircraft.

But this plane has become the most expensive military procurement program in history. While critics continue to carp about the cost, the plane is now in the skies, and the military says it's the lynchpin for future defense strategies.

Read Part 1 of this series here, How Good Is The World's Most Expensive Fighter Jet?, Larry Abramson, NPR, January 2, 2013

In a mile-long building on the edge of Fort Worth, Texas, an assembly line is taking shape to build the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Lockheed Martin, which got the contract to build the jet back in 2001, is slowly cranking up production. It's hard to keep a plane current, when it takes so many years to develop.

...Many say this program has set a new standard for pricing complexity, even for the Pentagon. Winslow Wheeler, a defense expert with the Project on Government Oversight, says Lockheed uses a pricing vocabulary that masks rising costs.

"Flyaway costs, non-recurring and recurring costs. Lots of gobblygook and they'll say that comes to a number like 60, 70 million dollars, and it's complete baloney," he says.

Wheeler says if you figure in all the research and fixes to the design, the price rises out of sight. No matter what the actual cost, this issue has turned into a public relations battle for the military. ...

Read Part 2 of this series here At $130 Million A Plane, Critics Question The Cost Of The F-35, Larry Abramson, NPR - All Things Considered, January 2, 2013