The New York Times published a long, unflattering article about Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jet program on its front page today, calling it an example of "how the Pentagon can let huge and complex programs veer out of control and then have a hard time reining them in."
Little of the information is new. Rather, the Times takes a view of the program from 20,000 feet, recounting years of delays, cost overruns and technical problems, laid against the new and pending budget constraints in Congress.
Held up as a poster child for an out-of-control military program likely to get chopped in future budget negotiations, the Times reports that some analysts believe the Pentagon will eventually order only 1,200 to 1,800 planes, well short of the 2,443 planned when the program began.
“It is simultaneously too big to fail and too big to succeed,” says Todd Harrison, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a research group in Washington. “The bottom line here is that they’ve crammed too much into the program. They were asking one fighter to do three different jobs, and they basically ended up with three different fighters.”
According to the article:
With all the delays — full production is not expected until 2019 — the military has spent billions to extend the lives of older fighters and buy more of them to fill the gap. At the same time, the cost to build each F-35 has risen to an average of $137 million from $69 million in 2001.
The jets would cost taxpayers $396 billion, including research and development, if the Pentagon sticks to its plan to build 2,443 by the late 2030s. That would be nearly four times as much as any other weapons system and two-thirds of the $589 billion the United States has spent on the war in Afghanistan. The military is also trying to figure out how to reduce the long-term costs of operating the planes, now projected at $1.1 trillion.
Lockheed's outgoing CEO, Robert J. Stevens, is quoted as saying that company officials were “working as aggressively as we can” to fix the problems and cut costs.
Not good publicity.
-- Steve Kaskovich