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Tags: f-35 program

Costly, Troubled F-35 Program Needs to Have Its Wings Clipped

rear view of an f thirty five in flight

(Pavel Chagochkin/Dreamstime)

Jared Whitley By Tuesday, 02 March 2021 08:16 AM Current | Bio | Archive

In the movie "Behind Enemy Lines," Navy pilot Owen Wilson gets sent out on a routine reconnaissance mission in 1995. When it turns out to be a false positive, Wilson says, "And a warm thank you to the U.S. intelligence community, ladies and gentlemen. Yet another useless joyride at the cost of mere millions to the U.S. taxpayer."

It's a cute little line that captures the spirit of a time where America's power was unquestioned, world peace seemed a given, and we could joke about squandering our wealth.

But that was the 1990s. We can't be blasé about international threats anymore, nor can we afford to pretend like we can afford everything.

The Chinese tiger is hellbent on making up for the lost time of not ruling the world for the last 500 years. Its government has imposed an Orwellian social credit system, tortured religious minorities, and cracked protesters' skulls in Hong Kong.

While the Biden administration wants to make sure our military is as effetely woke as possible, the Chinese Communist Party has bought Cambodia to install military bases in Southeast Asia so they can blow up our aircraft carriers, while building a navy in space and creating Captain America-style super soldiers.

This is to say nothing of the Russian bear, fat with oil money, that considers the Cold War has merely been on pause for 30 years.

For the sake of its own safety, and the stability of the entire planet, the United States cannot afford to be blasé about either its defense or its budgets.

Debt is exploding and the Biden administration needs to find places to save money, targeting ineffective defense programs rather than just slashing Pentagon budgets. A good place to start is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the most expensive defense initiative in U.S. history – Lockheed's baby and America's dysfunctional trillion-dollar fighter-jet.

The F-35's annual expense was pegged at more than $320 billion in 2012, then two years later the GAO found that the F-35 would have operating costs 79% higher than the fleet it was to replace. Recently, Bloomberg News reported that over the next 10 years, the F-35 is expected to come in $10 billion over budget.

The devil's in the details, and what a devil it is. In 2019 POGO reported that Lockheed receives $2 billion per year to sustain the F-35 – meaning it costs $5 million per year to fly each of the 400 F-35s delivered so far. And Lockheed can't account for the $3,000 cost per hour of the F-35's operating cost in a 2019 audit – money on top of the amount it costs to build them.

Calling the F-35 a "money pit," some private analysts have argued that the purpose of Lockheed's massive global chain of 1,300 suppliers across 45 states and nine foreign countries was not so much to help America maintain air superiority, but to make sure the program was too big to fail.

Indeed, the F in F-35 seems to stand for Fail … or the F in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Furthermore, for all its cost, the F-35 is bursting with problems. Paramount among these is that it's unsafe to fly at supersonic rates of speed. The GAO reported on over 3,200 deficiencies in the craft, including problems with the safety, suitability and effectiveness of its weapon system.

One doesn't want to be flippant, but the two things that seem most important in a fighter jet are the abilities to fly and fight.

Other problems include planned depots that have yet to stand up and the troubled Autonomic Logistic Information System used to track and order parts, according to a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing last July.

Now, any experimental craft is going to have problems, which is why the Pentagon usually eases out production of a new fleet – so that unexpected problems can be addressed before too many have been built. But in the case of the F-35, 400 craft are already in service. The majority of these will require modification of serious design flaws that should have been identified before they ever rolled off the production line.

Every war America has won in the last 120 years has been because of air superiority, but we'll lose that advantage if we spend so much we can no longer afford to keep our planes in the sky. In an era of both increased military competition against international adversaries and staggering budgetary constraints at home, incremental savings across a large enterprise such as the F-35 program matter, and can't be overlooked.

If government contractors only worry about useless joyrides for short-term gains, rather than America's long-term financial health, there'll be no government left to contract for.

Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. Read Jared Whitley's reports — More Here.

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For the sake of its own safety, and the stability of the entire planet, the United States cannot afford to be blasé about either its defense or its budgets.
f-35 program
Tuesday, 02 March 2021 08:16 AM
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