The F-35's $10 Billion Funding Gap | Citizens Against Government Waste

The F-35's $10 Billion Funding Gap

The WasteWatcher

The first comprehensive cost review of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program since 2012 has found a funding gap of $10 billion over the next five years.

On September 11, 2020 Bloomberg News reported on an internal Department of Defense (DOD) review of the JSF program labeled “For Official Use Only.”  Dated June 17, 2020, the report estimates that $88 billion for research and development, procurement, and operations and maintenance will be needed over the next five fiscal years.  The DOD has officially called for $78 billion to be spent.

Even more shocking, the total costs for the F-35 are estimated to reach $1.727 trillion over the lifetime of the program.  Of this total, $1.266 trillion will be needed for operations and support.

According to the DOD report, much uncertainty exists regarding the final cost of the JSF because the aircraft has only logged about 2 percent of the total flight hours it will accrue over its lifecycle.  In addition, the DOD’s goal to reduce the F-35’s cost per hour of flight by $10,000 to $25,000 over the next five years “is likely to prove unachievable” because of “a lack of defined actions” to cut costs.

The perennial posterchild of a broken acquisition system, the JSF program has been in development for nearly 19 years and is nine years behind schedule.  Total acquisition costs now exceed $428 billion, nearly double the initial estimate of $233 billion.  The JSF has been plagued by a staggering array of persistent issues.  These include 873 unresolved deficiencies, including 13 Category 1 items, which involve the most serious flaws that could endanger crew and aircraft.

The overall poor performance of the F-35 contributed to the Air Force’s decision on May 7, 2020 to scrap the 80 percent mission-capable rate directive established three years prior.  

Of course, the program’s many problems have not stopped the Pentagon from asking for funding, and members of Congress from supplying it, oftentimes exceeding the request from the DOD.  This trend continued in FY 2020, when legislators added $2.1 billion to fund the acquisition of 22 JSFs beyond the amount requested by the Pentagon.  Upon completion of the development phase, additional funding will be needed to retrofit the JSFs purchased via earmarks in FY 2020, adding to overall costs.

The Bloomberg News report called the $10 billion funding gap “a new indication that the complex fighter jet may be too costly to operate and maintain.”  Given the overall state of the JSF program, it is difficult to reach a different conclusion.

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