Trump’s F-35 ‘Deal’ Is Unlikely to Result in Real Savings
It’s just a ‘bulk-rate discount’ for buying more jets
On Jan. 30, Pres. Donald Trump announced a “deal” with Lockheed Martin to reportedly trim $600 million from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s final price tag. But it was immediately unclear whether the arrangement involved any real savings.
“Although this appears to be a victory for those concerned about out-of-control costs of the F-35 program, these savings don’t really exist,” said Dan Grazier, the Jack Shanahan Fellow at the Project on Government Oversight’s Straus Military Reform Project. “The American people will end up paying even more for the unproven jets in the future.”
“The so-called savings announced today are little more than the bulk-rate discount for the next yearly purchase of 90 aircraft,” he continued. “If this ‘concession’ is predicated on committing taxpayers to a multi-year buy, it will only further compound the waste of public funds on this program.”
One of the biggest underlying issues is that Lockheed Martin hasn’t yet completed the development process for the F-35. Despite the phony combat readiness declarations by the Marine Corps and the Air Force, the F-35 is still incapable of performing nearly all combat missions the Pentagon intends it to perform.
Above and at top — U.S. Navy F-35Cs. Navy photos
The response from Pentagon’s top testing office’s to the Air Force’s Initial Operational Capability announcement in August 2016 was a clear statement of the F-35’s limitations.
“If used in combat, the F-35 in the Block 3i configuration, which is equivalent in capabilities to Block 2B, will need support to locate and avoid modern threats, acquire targets and engage formations of enemy fighter aircraft due to outstanding performance deficiencies and limited weapons carriage availability,” Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Michael Gilmore wrote.
It could take as long as three years for Lockheed Martin to finish simply developing the F-35. Realistic combat testing, which starts after that process is completed, could take another four years, depending on how long it takes for evaluators to identify, fix and retest any number of new problems.
At that rate, we may not know if the F-35 can perform in combat until 2024.
In the meantime, the Pentagon would have the American people buy more immature jets. All of them would have to go back to the manufacturer later to get upgraded with all the modifications identified during later development and testing — all at an enormous cost to the taxpayers.
“The problem with this deal is the planes purchased and any others bought in the foreseeable future, will be nothing more than under-developed prototypes with little actual usefulness in combat, leaving taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars for retrofits and design changes,” Grazier explained.
This is why this process, known as “concurrency,” is a bad deal. Each additional aircraft the Pentagon purchases before it completes the development and testing process only compounds the problem.
“POGO believes that, at a minimum, future F-35 purchases should be delayed until the program successfully completes the initial operational test and evaluation process,” Grazier said. “Only then will policymakers have the necessary information to make an informed decision as to whether this program is in the best interests of the American people.”