How to Build a $400 Billion F-35 That Doesn’t Fly
Policy + Politics

How to Build a $400 Billion F-35 That Doesn’t Fly


The Pentagon’s embattled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter continues to be plagued with so many problems that it can’t even pass the most basic requirements needed to fly in combat, despite soaring roughly $170 billion over budget. 

As the most expensive weapons program in the Pentagon’s history, the $400 billion and counting F-35 is supposed to be unlike any other fighter jet—with high-tech computer capabilities that can identify a combatant plane at warp speed. However, major design flaws and test failures have placed the program under serious scrutiny for yearswith auditors constantly questioning whether the jet will ever actually be able to serve its purpose, no matter how much money is thrown at it.

Last year, military officials faulted contractors for all of the mistakes. Contractors claimed they had corrected the issues and that there wouldn’t be more costly problems down the road. 

During an interview on 60 MinutesAir Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, who is in charge of the program, said, “Long gone is the time when we will continue to pay for mistake after mistake after mistakeLockheed Martin doesn’t get paid their profit unless each and every airplane meets each station on time with the right quality.” 

However, a new progress report from the Defense Department casts serious doubts on the progress of the program. 

The DOD’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation cites everything from computer system malfunctions to flaws with its basic design—it even found that the jet is vulnerable to engine fires because of the way it’s built. 

A separate report from unearthed another embarrassing issue with the jet that suggests it won’t take off on time. 

Related: 5 Expensive Weapons Programs No One Wants 

The “precision-guided Small Diameter Bomb II doesn’t even fit on the Marine’s version of the jet," according to On top of that, the software needed to operate the top close-air support bomb won’t even be operational until 2022, inspectors said.

The Defense Department’s report also suggested that the program’s office isn’t accurately recording the jet’s problems. 

“Not all failures are counted in the calculation of mean flight hours between reliability events, but all flight hours are counted, and hence component and aircraft reliability are reported higher than if all of the failures were counted,” the report said. 

The Project on Government Accountability summed up the report in an independent analysis, concluding that the program isn’t realistically going to meet its goal of being operational for the Marines by this summer.

The F-35 is years away from being ready for initial operational capability. To send this airplane on a combat deployment, or to declare it ready to be sent, as early as the Marines’ 2015 or the Air Force’s 2016 IOC dates, is a politically driven and irresponsible mistake. DOT&E's report shows that the current plans for the F-35A and B should be rejected as unrealistic. Without meaningful oversight from the Department of Defense or Congress, however, these IOC declarations will go unchallenged,” POGO said on its website.

While more problems with the program are identified, the costs keep climbing. 

Last year alone, the JSF was $4 billion over budget, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. At the same time, the program was scaled back to include fewer jets. The GAO noted the Pentagon was spending more for less. 

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