President Trump Should Reconsider His Support of “Fantastic” F-35

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Madelyn Brown

Statement of Dan Grazier, Jack Shanahan Fellow, POGO’s Straus Military Reform Project

The F-35 has attracted a great deal of President Donald Trump’s attention in recent months. Interestingly, he has gone from critic to cheerleader after declaring he had persuaded Lockheed Martin to shave the price of the Fiscal Year 2016 buy of F-35s. In his words, the fighter is now “fantastic.”

It is refreshing to see a president taking an active role in controlling the costs of a major Pentagon program, especially one as bloated and beleaguered as the $1.4 trillion F-35. But in this case, President Trump is poorly advised. He needs to speak with people other than the program’s executive officer and the CEO of Lockheed Martin—both of whom have every career and financial motivation in the world to ensure the program’s survival.

As we have detailed at some length, the F-35 is plagued with issues that make it questionable as to when or if it will ever be combat ready. The figures being quoted by Lockheed and program boosters fail to include how much it will cost to fix design flaws discovered in recent, current, and future testing—a not insubstantial amount of money. They also do not include the costs of planned modernization efforts, such as for Block 4 of the aircraft, which will be incorporated into all F-35As at some point in the early 2020s.

Rather than focusing on securing new deals, the President’s time would be better spent pushing to ensure the F-35 Program Office completes the test program already in place to understand, before further production, exactly what this aircraft can and cannot do competently. That means suspending further F-35 production until those tests are complete and the results are honestly reported to the Secretary of Defense, the President, and Congress.

For more background, please see “The F-35 Continues to Stumble.”