There is a huge bill coming for an already expensive program. The most expensive defense program in American history, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, is going to get even more costly for the taxpayer. There is a bill coming that nobody is expecting.
The JSF program is an attempt to replace a number of fighter jets and other military hardware that spans countries other than the United States. The goal was to use an advanced one-size-fits-all F-35 to replace other existing fighter jets. The flaw in the program is that diversity in the types of aircraft were tossed aside when some of the tried and true aircraft that have served the nation so well over the years was scrapped in favor of an untested technology. That proved to be a mistake.
One reason is cost. The Pentagon has had a long history of losing control of spending on programs. Popular Mechanics reported on June 4, 2018, the Pentagon has “struggled to manage its $700 billion annual budget” and they have inaccurate projections for “big-ticket items” that “have the biggest cost overruns,” including the “most notably the F-35 Lightning II.” The report indicated that “at $1.1 trillion, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons development program in U.S. history” and “while no one factor is solely responsible for that boondoggle, a big mistake was rosy thinking about how to build it.” The cost of this program is pushing out other necessary expenditures needed to keep our nation protected.
Even with the massive ticket price of the JSF program, there are hidden massive costs that are likely to be passed on to the taxpayer in the future that nobody is talking about that will be in the billions. The program has been advertised as one with costs coming down, but the truth is that new costs have not been factored into the final price tag. Potential huge costs are upgrades to the air frames of the aircraft, technology upgrades to make the aircrafts combat worthy that may cost upwards of $4 billion, and contracts that pass on mistakes by contractors to the taxpayer.
Lockheed Martin has a profitable contract for this program that has become too big to fail and too big to cancel. The Drive reported on June 12, 2019, after the Pentagon and the contractor reached an agreement a “cluster bomb of stories” dropped that “cover ongoing problems for all three F-35 variants, including performance limitations, troubles when operating in very hot or very cold weather, dangerous cockpit pressure incidents, faults in the helmet-mounted display, serious safety concerns in the event of a blown tire, and much more.” This has been a troubled program that will continue to drain federal resources that could go to other programs.
Even the cloud computing brain (ALIS) of the F-35 enterprise has come under fire. The Drive reported on January 16, 2020 “Bloomberg was first to report that Ellen Lord, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions and Sustainment, had revealed the existence of a replacement in the works for the F-35’s existing Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), on Jan. 14, 2020.” This has caused “abysmal mission capable rates for their respective F-35 variants and a major contributor to the growing sustainment costs for the aircraft.” And an upgrade is not expected for another two years at the earliest with the same contractor fixing the problem they created.
The Pentagon needs to mitigate cost on a program that will far exceed the whole Pentagon budget for one year when complete. The taxpayers are on the hook for all these massive costs at a time when resources are scarce. Congress needs to take a harder look at the F-35 JSF program to find savings and maybe to force more diversity to make sure that the American public is not relying on an unreliable fighter jet to fight for the U.S. armed forces.