Trillion-Dollar F-35 JSF Jet On Brink of Budgetary Disaster————Pentagon


F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the supposed backbone of the Pentagon’s
future air arsenal, could need additional years of work and billions of
dollars in unplanned fixes, the Air Force and the Government
Accountability Office revealed on Tuesday. Congressional testimony by
Air Force and Navy leaders, plus a new report by the GAO, heaped bad
news on a program that was already almost a decade late, hundreds of
billions of dollars over its original budget and vexed by mismanagement,
safety woes and rigged test results.

At an estimated $1
trillion to develop, purchase and support through 2050, the Lockheed
Martin-built F-35 was already the most expensive conventional weapons
program ever even before Tuesday’s bulletins. The Air Force, Navy and
Marine Corps are counting on buying as many as 2,500 F-35s to replace
almost every tactical jet in their current inventories. More than a
dozen foreign countries are lined up to acquire the stealthy,
single-engine fighter as well.

In its report the GAO
reserved its most dire language for the JSF’s software, which agency
expert Michael Sullivan said is “as complicated as anything on earth.”
The new jet needs nearly 10 million lines of on-board code, compared to 5
million for the older F-22 and just 1.5 million for the Navy’s F/A-18
Super Hornet. “Software providing essential JSF capability has grown in
size and complexity, and is taking longer to complete than expected,”
the GAO warned.

Software delays plus continuing mechanical
and safety problems prompted JSF program chief Adm. David Venlet to back
away from a firm schedule for the new fighter’s frontline introduction.
When the F-35 was conceived in the late 1990s, it was expected to begin
flying combat missions as early as 2010. Lately military officials have
mentioned 2018 as a likely start date. In his Congressional testimony,
Venlet declined to even mention a possible timeframe for the JSF’s
service entry.

The GAO predicts the JSF’s $400-billion
combined development and production cost will grow later this year, once
the Pentagon computes a new program “baseline” — something it’s already
done no fewer than five times since 2001. Aside from a 400-plane
reduction in 2003, the Pentagon has always opted to increase the
program’s budget rather than cut production numbers. That’s no longer
possible, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told Congress. “To the
extent that there continue to be cost growth or challenges … we’ll have
to take down the number of aircraft,” he said.

Air Combat
Command, which oversees most of the Air Force’s fighter squadrons,
seconded Donley’s view. “We cannot simply buy our way out of our
problems or shortfalls as we have been able to do in the past,” the
command stated in a report last week.

cuts do occur, the U.S. will be in good company. Australia, Canada and
Japan have already begun backing away from the troubled JSF as the new
plane has gradually exceeded their budgets. For these countries,
alternatives include the Super Hornet and an upgraded F-15 from Boeing,
Lockheed’s new F-16V and the European Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen
fighters. But so far the U.S. military prefers the F-35, even if the
stealthy jet is more than a decade late, twice as expensive as
originally projected and available in fewer numbers. “We will remain
committed to the long-term success of the F-35 program,” Air Combat
Command asserted.