The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program was established in 2001 to create a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet with superior abilities and new technology. The aircraft is intended to be used by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, and ten of our allies for air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strikes, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. The theory was that if all the branches could use a single plane, demand would increase, and the aircraft would be manufactured in such large quantities that it would be more cost-effective.
The Heritage Foundation published a paper earlier this year claiming that the F-35 is a “cost-effective fighter” and urging the U.S. Air Force to forgo buying the previously preferred F-15EX and “accelerate its acquisition” of the F-35. Regrettably, the truth is that from the very beginning the F-35 has been a dysfunctional and pricey money pit for taxpayers that has produced unsatisfactory results. With over 3,200 known deficiencies, spare parts scarcities, and detrimental design flaws, the program has continuously progressed way behind schedule and way over budget.
Recently, Bloomberg News reported that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program is expected to come in $10 billion over budget over the next ten years. The Defense Department has requested $78 billion for the next five fiscal years for research and development, jet procurement, maintenance, and construction of the F-35. Predictably, after cost analysis it is estimated to need $10 billion more in reality.
The F-35 program is the most expensive program in United States history with the total life cycle cost to operate and maintain the F-35 program is an estimated $1.7 trillion. Of that, $1.2 trillion is anticipated for operations and support of the advanced aircraft. The General Accounting Officer also found that the F-35 fleet would have operating costs that are 79 percent higher than the aircraft it is intending to replace.
Over the past two decades, the program has been rampant with design flaws and setbacks including faulty ejection seats, software delays and helmet-display issues. A recent report indicated that the Pentagon is so worried about design flaws that they limit the amount of time a pilot can operate the aircraft at fast speeds and restricted the F-35 from flying near thunderstorms after flight tests exposed its lightening-protection system as defective. Arguably this could mean the difference between an aircraft returning home safely or not being able to return at all.
The Pentagon estimated in 2015 that the program costs had skyrocketed by 43 percent since 2001, and the individual unit costs were up 68 percent. With our national debt exceeding an unsustainable $27 trillion, something has to be done to prevent wasteful spending from being dumped into too big to fail programs like the F-35.
The Joint Strike Fighter Program will continue to present a problematic budgeting challenge during the next presidential administration, whether President Trump is re-elected or Joe Biden assumes office. The F-35 has been the symbol of everything that’s wrong with colossal defense contracts and the American taxpayers are left to foot the bill for this embarrassingly over-budget and flawed program.