Procurement Monopoly Spells Trouble For F-35

Written by James Lowe on November 23, 2019

In life, there’s bad news and there’s worse news. Suppose you took your car to a mechanic and were told it needs new brakes before you may drive it again. That’s bad news. But suppose you were then told that the mechanic can’t actually fix your car, because the shop is busy manufacturing new cars and doesn’t have time to repair broken ones. That’s worse news.

Our military is hearing worse news when it comes to a key weapon system, the F-35.

Right from the beginning, Lockheed-Martin’s F-35 has been an expensive disaster. The Pentagon basically wanted to “build the airplane while it was in flight,” so it decided to “save” money by having contractor Lockheed build new airplanes before existing ones had been proven successful.

This was called concurrency, but what it led to was a disaster. Every time a problem arose with an existing plane, Lockheed had to go back and fix that problem in the new planes it was rolling out. This led to delays and cost overruns. By the time the F-35 was declared operational, meaning it met minimal effectiveness requirements, it had taken more than 20 years of development.

But that’s not the F-35s only problem. Now, Congress wants so many planes that the contractor doesn’t have time to build both the aircraft and also deliver the parts needed to repair broken planes.

The Pentagon’s Ellen Lord recently admitted to the industry publication FlightGlobal: “We are particularly having issues in three areas: one is canopies, two is engine fuel hydraulic tubes, and then wingtip lenses.” She’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment. Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick adds: “we’re working to mitigate that with the prime contractor, Lockheed and their subs GKN [Aerospace] and PPG [Industries].” But that brings us right back to the bad news: The contractor can’t repair existing planes because it’s too busy making new ones, which are likely to break down quickly themselves.

This matters, because the F-35 program is already the most expensive program ever run by any government, any place. Each plane costs more than $100 million, and those costs aren’t expected to decline much even if Lockheed is able to roll out all the planes it’s contracted to build (it won’t be able to do that). The Pentagon predicts each F-35A will “cost $82.4 million in 2020, $79.17 million in 2021 and $77.9 million in 2022,” but it’s erred on the low side many times.

To look at costs another way, the F-35 will cost more than $25,000 per hour to operate for the foreseeable future, which simply isn’t sustainable. Back in 2014, the Government Accountability Office reported that: “The annual F-35 operating and support costs are estimated to be considerably higher than the combined annual costs of several legacy aircraft.”

However, that’s delivering a sliver of good news: the F-35s struggles have smart lawmakers like Rep. Donald Norcross looking to hedge their bets by also funding the updated F-15X.

“The F-15X came out of a quiet USAF inquiry to Boeing and Lockheed Martin about fielding an aircraft that could seamlessly plug into their existing air combat infrastructure as part of better-defined high-low capability mix strategy—one intended to specifically help counter the service’s shrinking force structure,” writes Tyler Rogoway.

This would give the military an effective option, and one that’s affordable. The additional F-15Xs wouldn’t come at the expense of the F-35, but would be in addition to the F-35, a point made by both the Air Force’s Chief of Staff and Lockheed’s CEO.

The F-35 simply isn’t able to stay in the air, and our contractors don’t have much of a plan for getting it out of the shop and back into service. Let’s diversify our military’s jet fleet, so it can keep protecting the skies from foreign foes.

James Lowe, is a public policy analyst, and a two decade’s long radio industry veteran who host’s of his own nationally syndicated radio show based in Kansas and carried on the Iheartradio App. Find out more at

James Lowe, is a public policy analyst, and a two decade's long radio industry veteran who host's of his own nationally syndicated radio show based in Kansas and carried on the Iheartradio App. Find out more at