Swampy Washington Should Not Compound the F-35’s Failure

Mae West famously said that too much of a good thing can be wonderful. Well, Washington lawmakers seem determined to turn that logic on its head. They want too much of a bad thing, one that bad thing is already too expensive. And it’s not wonderful.

Recently, the House Appropriations Committee added two-dozen F-35 fighters to the number of such jets that the Pentagon has requested. If the purchase goes forward, those 103 new warplanes would represent a colossal waste of money on top of the tens of billions the federal government has already squandered on the massive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. 

The F-35’s proponents have been over-promising and under-delivering for decades now. Don’t take my word for it. Just last year the military completed an internal assessment of the plane. The review shows ongoing reliability issues with the jet that have already greatly shortened its useful life. In other words, lawmakers are lining up to say they want to buy more of a plane that can’t even fulfill its stated mission.

It’s one thing for lawmakers to have believed the hype and invested in the F-35 decades ago when the concept was introduced. Many people inside and outside our military fell for the pie in the sky promise of a single jet that could do it all. Lawmakers should not, however, trip over themselves to repeat their past mistakes by adding a hundred more of these clunkers to the military’s fleet. 

It might have been different if Lockheed had finally solved the problems with the JSF. But it hasn’t, and the problems that have long dogged the plane aren’t getting better. The same internal review found “no improving trend” among the number of aircraft available for training and combat missions.

This failing jet is good at one thing and one thing only: ringing up costs. Bloomberg News reported the F-35 program, which is already the most expensive weapons system in the history of warfare, is adding another $22 billion in unexpected costs. Expect that price tag to increase, not decrease.

Why would the Pentagon want so much of this less-than-wonderful weapon? Perhaps it just feels stuck, thinking that at this point it is too far down the F-35 road to turn back.

After all, the JSF was conceived decades ago with the promise it would solve problems and replace other legacy systems. Starting in the 1990s, military decisionmakers decided to give Lockheed a contract to build a one-size-fits-all jet, a weapon that could be used by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. 

Bottom line, It didn’t work. And, with the results we’re getting now, it would seem reasonable to conclude that it will never work as intended. This should be a warning that something is basically flawed that would accommodate a series of false assumptions in the face of all evidence. 

And here we are once again after investing billions of dollars and considering to keep spending more money because the project is too big to fail. This is the kind of government project management that drives Americans nuts. We’re told these project managers are brilliant. So why is their decision making so fundamentally flawed and costing us billions of dollars? 

A few years ago, a RAND Corp. study found the three F-35 variants had drifted so far apart during development that having a single base design may prove to be more expensive than if the armed services had built separate aircraft tailored to their own requirements from the get-go. That, unfortunately, was more than 20 years into the program, when most of the people who thought this was a good idea had retired or gone into consulting. 

It took these geniuses all this time and money to confirm that one size doesn’t fit all? That the F-35 is ineffective at many of the tasks the military needs, such as force projection? Flying an F-15 overhead lets the bad guys know we’re there in a way the F-35 cannot, for example.

The JSF may even be dangerous. Earlier this year, Japan grounded its F-35 jets after an accident. That would seem to negate another supposed advantage of the JSF: that we can sell it to our allies to help with joint defense.

There’s no reason to invest more money in a plane that’s ineffective, too expensive, and hazardous. The Pentagon needs more planes, but ones that can actually get the job done. Why not cut the F-35 order and invest in effective weapon systems instead?

Once again the treasury, resources, and lives of service members are needlessly at risk. Why? 

Why continue with a project that is not fulfilling it’s intended objective?

Why spend more money when the results continue to indicate failure?

Why invest time and resources on a “loser project” when that time and resources could be directed to a better idea?

Why is the House Appropriations Committee just going along with this increasingly costly program?

Why aren’t they asking more questions before committing to more money?

A robust military budget is in America’s interests, but the size and ambitions of the military-industrial complex demand oversight and accountability. The fact that in lieu of a complete accounting of military spending, we only get excuses is unacceptable because it leaves us vulnerable to misappropriations, the waste of our money and wasteful projects like this one.

It’s irresponsible to consider sending America’s best to war with a clearly flawed piece of machinery that has not delivered on its promises. Knowing what we know today after decades of investment, why pursue the F-35? “Close enough for government work” only misses the mark and promotes mediocrity over excellence. Excellence is what Americans deserve and what our military pilots deserve. 

Photo credit: Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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