Pentagon: Trillion-Dollar Jet On Brink Of Budgetary Disaster

The 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 $US1 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 2500 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 five 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 $US400-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.

If cuts do occur, the US 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.

Image: Lockheed Martin has been expanding the hive mind with technology, science and geek culture news since 1995.



    and yet, please are more concerned that the JWST being over budget by a couple of billion is far worse than this project?
    Anything to keep those commie bastards in their place right?


      I've said it before and I'll say it again: put NASA in charge of the JSF program (with the exact same budget of course) and we'll have frakin' Macross/Robotech by 2050. On the Moon.

        Surely someone at some point would have said to Lockheed - hang on a minute. You gave us a quote to build a super-jet that trounces all others. You stuffed it, its not working - why the hell are we paying to fix YOUR stuff up?

        Im pretty sure at this point, someone should be taking Lockheed directors out the back ready for execution if they dont meet the next deadline or ask for more money. God only know's it'd be cheaper to give it to a capable department like NASA. At least they can MAKE things fly, Lockheed Martin seem to have No F&*%ing Idea.

          I disagree that lockheed cant build planes, they have done some amazing and groundbreaking work with thir skunkworks over the years.

          However they must have an amazing contract that they are not being held acccountable for all of these delays. They out quoted other competitors and agreed to their deliverables and the begining and they should be held to it, hell they should be suffering penalties at this rate.

          I am not sure if NASA could nesercerily turn their hand to jet fighters and defense in a big way but it would certainly be interesting to see them try.

    I don't understand, just yesterday I read an article saying that the first JSF will be delivered 2014 to the RAAF. RE : Link

      If we get them by 2014 its because there is no warranty, return policy and we waive all liabilities.

    In terms of military porn, that image is very NSFW. I mean she's just letting it all hang out for the world to see... not that I'm complaining.

    This is one thing that the US should have outsourced to China long time ago.

    The RAAF should have just bought 100 new Super Hornets and be done with it. They are the best plane in the US arsenal at the moment, the F-22 is still unproven. (refitted F-15s would be sick).

      @ Symo

      Instead the RAAF should've considered first to replace the fleet of 71 F/A-18A/B Hornets with Advanced F-15s (refitted F/A-18E/Fs would be sick).

      The F/A-18 fleet will never meet its peacetime fighter availability requirements, with the remaining fatigue life in A/B models to expire in 2020, further costly structural and enhancement program to replace fuselage centre barrels has been initiated to extend the life of these aircraft. With the APG-73 radar, electronic warfare, guided weapon, missile upgrades and software will diminish this availability even further. With the acquisition of the Su-27/30 Flanker family of fighters by most regional nations now shows an environment where the F/A-18A/B or F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is outclassed in all key performance parameters, aerodynamic and radar performance by widely available fighters. Australia needs to get out of this “Hornet country”.

      Why? Is because the Super Hornet has a similar performance deficiences to the F-35 JSF which the aircraft has a short range and does not have the performance envelope of a true air superiority fighter.

      The Super Hornet Block 2 is equipped with the APG-79 AESA which is a competitive design, however its detection range performance has already been outclassed by the Tikhomirov NIIP Irbis-E (Snow Leopard) radar designed for the Su-35S Super Flanker-E, plus and available option for the regional Su-30MKI ans Su-30MKM Flanker-H, which is why I'm concerned about the Super Hornets suitability for RAAF's needs.

    The screw up isn't totally Lockheed's, though they have promised a lot of the moon with all the automation they want to put in the cockpit.The Pentagon is to blame too, the additional STOVL requirements the F-35B is placing on the rest of the program is resulting in crazy problems. I guess the problem is no one remembers the Macnamara's F-111 program any more (i note the F-11B specifically).

    The world’s best air forces choose the world’s biggest failed (F-35) project, inferior to the Sukhoi family of fighters and advanced SAM systems which is not lethal and not survivable, extremely expensive to fly and maintain.

    It is very fortunate that there are so many representations and sortions of facts presented in the opinions offered by Winslow Wheeler, Pierre Sprey, Air Power Australia, retired fighter pilots and officers.

    The simple facts are as follows:
    –– The F-35 will never be the most lethal and survivable multirole fighter in history;
    –– The F-35 is not meeting or not exceeding every single one of the Key Performance Parameters that the services have mandated;
    –– The F-35’s capabilities are not being validated in their laboratories, and in on ground- and flight-test programme today;
    –– The F-35’s procurement costs are not up to date and not meeting programme cost objectives, and certainly are not on track to meet the customers’ unit flyaway cost targets; and
    –– The F-35 programme is behind schedule to deliver the first production-model aircraft next year (from 2010).

    I'm not very pleased to see that many of the world’s most elite air forces – including the US Air Force, US Navy and US Marine Corps, Canadian Air Force, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, Royal Australian Air Force and other NATO air forces – do not agree with the opinions and facts from Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon and pro-JSF advocates that recent endorsements of the F-35 programme both in the US and abroad underscore these convictions.

    I'm certainly not the most proud of the fact that the F-35 is the system of choice for all participating nations to protect the freedoms that enable those with differing opinions to speak out.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now