Yet Another Missed Deadline for the F-35 | Citizens Against Government Waste

Yet Another Missed Deadline for the F-35

The WasteWatcher

When the book is written on the acquisition history of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), it will be dominated by tales of delays, cost overruns, and poor performance.  This week the F-35 failed to meet one more deadline, when the Pentagon announced that approval for full-rate production would be delayed until 2021, signaling more complications for the program’s contractor, Lockheed Martin.

The JSF needs to pass combat simulation testing prior to certification by the Department of Defense (DOD) for final stage production.  According to a October 26, 2020 Bloomberg article, the platform has encountered problems completing technical preparations for the simulation, which was initially scheduled to occur three years ago.

Even at a lower stage of production, Lockheed Martin has been churning out F-35s.  By the beginning of October 2020, 570 aircraft have been delivered to the United States and partner nations out of a total expected to exceed 3,200.  Of course, the volume of JSFs already purchased will inevitably cause overall costs to further spike as these aircraft will need to be retrofitted upon completion of the development phase.

Taxpayers can ill afford additional cost overruns in the program.  The JSF 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 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.

The JSF has been plagued by a staggering array of persistent issues, many of which were highlighted in the fiscal year 2019 DOD Operational Test and Evaluation Annual Report, which revealed 873 unresolved deficiencies including 13 Category 1 items, involving the most serious flaws that could endanger crew and aircraft.

Many of the problems with the F-35 program can be traced to the decision to develop and procure the aircraft simultaneously.  Whenever problems have been identified, contractors needed to go back and make changes to planes that were already assembled, adding to overall costs.  Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum on July 24, 2015, then-Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James stated, “The biggest lesson I have learned from the F-35 is never again should we be flying an aircraft while we’re building it.” 

Five years later, the DOD has yet to grasp this lesson.  Though largely symbolic, failing to meet the threshold for full-rate production is but the latest sign of a deeply flawed aircraft.

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