General Accountability Office Raises Red Flag Over F-35 Program

The United States Government Accountability Office has just released a report that slams the DOD’s plan to build and field the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) entitled, “DOD Plans to Enter JSF Production before Testing Demonstrates Acceptable Performance .”

This March, 2006 report notes that the F-35 is planned to account for nearly 90% of all spending on US tactical aircraft in the foreseeable future and that since the Joint Strike Fighter program began in 1996, Congress has appropriated nearly $25 billion for its development and will spend $257 billion to develop and procure about 2,443 aircraft and related support equipment by 2027. An additional $347 billion is to be spent to operate and support these aircraft once they have been fielded. However, according to the GAO, the F-35 technology has not yet been proven to work.

In March 2005, GAO reported the JSF’s original business case was unexecutable and recommended that DOD establish an executable program consistent with best practices and DOD policy regarding evolutionary acquisitions. In commenting on the 2005 GAO report, DOD replied that JSF’s restructured acquisition plan would incorporate “a knowledge-based, evolutionary approach consistent with DOD policy.” Yet, according to this latest report, GAO states serious concern regarding whether the JSF program acquisition strategy “captures critical knowledge” in time to make production investment decisions and then identifies an alternative to the current acquisition strategy “to improve JSF program outcomes.”

The 2006 report warns that the JSF program continues to base its acquisition strategy on a “highly concurrent approach that makes significant investments in manufacturing capabilities and production aircraft before flight testing demonstrates the JSF’s performance, and as a result, creates “significant development risk with the likely result being that current cost and schedule goals will not be met.” The program plans to proceed into low-rate initial production in 2007 with, in the GAO’s opinion, inadequate testing to prove a mature design for any of the three basic JSF variant airframes; that critical software will not be available on time; and that a fully integrated aircraft with advanced mission systems and prognostic maintenance capabilities will not have been successfully tested beforehand; and finally, that all three production representative variants will not be in flight testing 2011— four years after production begins and by which time DOD plans to have ordered 190 aircraft at a cost of about $26 billion.

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