The latest on the F-35 boondoggle

I’ve written several times before about the monumental boondoggle that the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II strike aircraft has become.  Things show no sign of improvement.

The latest summary of this colossal white elephant comes in a five-part series from Winslow Wheeler in Time magazine:

  1. The New Era of Good F-35 Feelings
  2. Alphabet Soup: PAUCs, APUCs, URFs, Cost Variances and Other Pricing Dodges
  3. The Deadly Empirical Data
  4. Different Planes, Common Problems
  5. On Final Approach to Fighter Fiscal Sanity

They’re all very interesting and worth reading, but the crunch comes in the final article.  Here’s an excerpt.

The breakdown of each year’s procurement spending and authorized production yields an annual F-35 unit production cost. For 2014, F-35As will cost $188.5 million each; F-35Bs and Cs will average $277.9 million each, and all F-35s will cost, on average, $219.3 million.

Claims by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Air Force Lieut. General Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program chief, that the F-35’s per-plane cost is “coming down” and “continues to come down,” respectively, are not accurate.

. . .

The history of combat-aircraft acquisition warns us that F-35 unit costs will be much higher than are currently projected by the Pentagon and Lockheed-Martin, and will remain well above what can be characterized as affordable.

The data reported to the public and Congress on F-35 costs and production, from the Defense Department’s comptroller, do not conform to the data in other Pentagon reports. Even the number of F-35 units authorized to be produced, and the number to be delivered, are in dispute.

Without a complete and independent audit of the F-35 program, including any costs that may not now be a formal part of the program as reported in Selected Acquisition Reports, it is impossible to discern which F-35 cost reports, if any, are accurate, and precisely what F-35 costs are today and will be in the future.

. . .

American taxpayers, the U.S. military services, and foreign purchasers — all of whom have been promised F-35 aircraft for as little as $85 million each — are in for a rude awakening. When real F-35 purchase prices unfold in the future, they may be as much as they are today—averaging more than $200 million per aircraft.

It remains inevitable that as actual costs sink in, fewer aircraft will be purchased.

This toxic stew of the F-35’s high cost, abetted by concurrent production, lagging performance and continuing design problems, has put U.S. and allied air power into a dive.

The dive will steepen so long as F-35 production at the currently-projected rates continues.

There’s more at the link.

To add insult to injury, David Axe details the size and extent of Lockheed Martin’s publicity machine, which constantly seeks to put a positive ‘spin’ on the F-35 program and keep government money flowing to it, despite the program’s many and well-known errors, problems and delays.  As Andrew Cockburn points out, the campaign even appears to extend to putting pressure on local politicians and ‘buying’ favorable politicians.  It’s my personal opinion that this entire public relations effort is nothing more than an attempt to fraudulently deceive the US electorate about the waste of their money that the F-35 program has come to represent.

I repeat what I’ve said before.  I believe the entire F-35 program has become bloated, ineffective and corrupt.  I think the whole thing should be shut down before it does irreparable damage to the USAF and the air defense of the United States and its allies.  We can do much better, at a far more reasonable cost.

I suppose there’s one positive thing about it, though . . . China has allegedly stolen much of the design of the F-35 through cyber-espionage.  Its recently-unveiled Shenyang J-31 ‘stealth’ jet fighter prototype appears to incorporate many features of both the F-35 and the earlier F-22.  If China’s copying this boondoggle, perhaps it, too, will waste much of its air force’s substance on a white elephant.  That, at least, may allow the USAF to fight China – if matters should ever come to that – with an aircraft equal in inferiority to the enemy’s!



  1. You and they are on the money, this is a MAJOR failure that will play out over the next couple of years… The Navy is now starting a VFX project, as they see the handwriting on the wall (and continuing to produce F-18s)…

  2. As a greater mind than mine once opined, eventually they'll only be able to buy one such craft. But it'll be a really good one.

    Except it's not such a good one at all, which makes me wonder exactly WHO is profiting by the single-minded pursuit of an inferior aircraft?

  3. Rev. Paul alludes to the great "Augustine's Laws" by Norman Augustine, who was CEO of Martin Marietta at the time (now Lockheed Martin – LockMart). Combining two trends, he saw that fighter prices would climb until the Air Force and the Navy would soon only be able to afford one plane. Unfortunately, trends in required maintenance meant that each service could only fly it once a week, the other five days going to maintenance.

    SiGraybeard @ work

  4. Like many weapons programs this exists for other-than-stated reasons. In no current or even seriously planned for conflict is our air superiority with F-18s in jeapordy so we don't 'need' an advanced fighter NOW. However, we MUST maintain the potential to design and build advanced weapons should the need develop. The B-17 was designed and a few built at what must have seemed a horribly wasteful cost at the height of the Depression and before WW-II even started – so mass production could begin when the need arose. Wars are fought with the weapons designed before the wars began. At the very least, we need to maintain the R&D infrastructure to allow next-generation weapons to be conceived. So we pump 'pork' money to politically-connected contractors. Inefficient, to be sure, but not pointless.

  5. If you get a chance to talk to the testers or see videos of the testing and can grasp the capabilities of this aircraft and the onboard systems, you will disagree strongly with the claims that it is not the most advanced fighter in the world.
    I will agree that the costs are exorbitant, but it is still good to know that our country can still produce aircraft and systems that place us decades ahead of the rest of the world.

  6. @Anonymous at 8:43 PM: I've seen videos of the testing, and read interviews with the testers, and spoken with USMC personnel involved with the testing. There is still no operational software suite, even after so many years of development; and there are still so many bugs being found and worked out that it's doubtful whether full operational capability will be achieved during the next five years.

    Furthermore, similar software (and similar capabilities) are now available on other aircraft, with new capabilities being introduced all the time. For the moment, in theory, the F-35's electronic systems are supposed to be the best in the business. However, since they're still not in operational condition (and won't be for some time), that gives others a chance to catch up. I have every expectation they'll do so within a few years.

    Like I said, the F-35 is a boondoggle. Time to kill it.

  7. Nice. Having the most advanced, sophisticated flying machine at arm's reach makes for a warm, fuzzy feel-good feeling.
    But, as was opined and acted upon during the first Gulf war, Australian F-111's were repositioned, towed) around their base at RAAF AMBERLEY, Queensland, after sundown, just in case someone with a Aud$5 .50 Cal bullet hit it from a distance, thereby disabling it.
    Lucky 'they' apparently did'nt have night vision goggles.
    How do I know?.
    I was the Snco i/c of the comms monitoring team sequestered off base, specifically to assess security of comms and assets.
    They did'nt know we were there, and, we did'nt have night-vis, but we had radio receivers, RACALS.
    We knew where EACH one was, as they were being moved. All too easy.

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