As the Pentagon plans to accelerate production of the F-35 Lightning II over the next five years, two reports last week pointed to continued problems for the controversial stealth fighter that will cost an estimated $1.5 trillion over the next five decades.
One report claimed late deliveries of the controversial stealth fighter and new development costs that will add upwards of $1.7 billion to what the General Accounting Office (GAO) has pegged as a nearly $400 billion acquisition program to buy the aircraft.
Bloomberg News quoted the Defense Contract Management Agency as saying that Lockheed Martin “did not meet contract requirements in 2014, 2015 or 2016.” The DCMA, an arm of the Defense Dept. that monitors military projects, expects 57 aircraft to be delivered in 2017 vs. the 66 scheduled.
But Mark Johnson, a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, while acknowledging that there were delays last year, said in an email to The Fiscal Times, “Our continued efficiency in building the F-35 adds to our confidence that we will deliver 66 jets in 2017.”
Johnson said Lockheed Martin had slashed the time it takes to build an F-35 from 150,000 hours in 2011 to 50,000 hours today. One reason for the delivery delay in 2016, Lockheed Martin claims, was defective insulation in the fuel system, which it blamed on a “one-time supplier quality issue.” That caused modifications on 57 aircraft.
The Joint Strike Fighter, as the aircraft is also known, is expected to reach peak production in 2022, the GAO said, when 125 F-35s are supposed to be delivered at the cost of about $15 billion for that year.
“We are very confident we have a plan in place to execute the ramp-up over the next five years,” Lockheed Martin said in a second email. “Unless something unexpected occurs, we fully intend to execute that plan.”
However, in accounting for the additional development costs, the GAO report said the Pentagon “has experienced delays in testing the software and systems that provide warfighting capabilities, known as mission systems, largely because the software has been delivered late to be tested and once delivered has not worked as expected.”
An April 4 story by Bloomberg Businessweek investigative reporter Paul Barrett asked the question, “Is the F-35 a Trillion-Dollar Mistake?” It quoted the GAO’s Michael Sullivan, who oversaw the current report, as saying of the F-35, The military “didn’t follow the old rule of ‘fly before you buy.’ ”