Report: Pentagon mulls axing F-35 Strike Fighter

The jet fleet from Lockheed Martin is the most expensive weapons program in the US military's history.

By Jonathan Berr Aug 2, 2013 1:02PM
A Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike fighter taxis at Edwards Air Force base, May 12, 2012. (© Lockheed Martin/AP)When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefed reporters this week about how the Pentagon would handle the automatic spending cuts in the sequester, he omitted one idea that officials were mulling: canceling the Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35.

The $391.2 billion program -- the Pentagon's most expensive ever -- was "listed for potential elimination in charts at briefings held July 31 by the Defense Department," according to Bloomberg News' well-connected Pentagon reporter Tony Capaccio. 

Spokesman George Little said the review is part of a "rigorous process of strategic modeling" to consider possible decisions under scenarios the Pentagon may or may not face in the future.

But the fact that canceling the Joint Strike Fighter is even being contemplated in a worst-case scenario is noteworthy, given its rocky history. 

Earlier this year, Air Force Lt. General Christopher Bogdan, who oversees the F-35 for the Pentagon, lambasted Lockheed Martin (LMT) and its engine-maker subcontractor, United Technologies' (UTX) Pratt & Whitney, for "behaving as if they are getting ready to sell me the very last F-35 and the very last engine and are trying to squeeze every nickel out of that last F-35 and that last engine."

J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's chief testing officer, is another F-35 critic. Among the litany of complaints he leveled at the aircraft in a February report obtained by the watchdog group Center for Public Integrity was poor cockpit visibility. The plane breaks down quite a bit as well, with two-thirds of the fleet unavailable more than half the time.

Yet the F-35 continues to have plenty of defenders. As Capaccio noted, officials at the Pentagon and the Government Accountability Office have said this year that the F-35 is "making steady progress in development and flight testing." This week, Lockheed was given the green light to make 71 more of the aircraft.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute who is also a Lockheed consultant, told Reuters that it would cost four times the money to keep the military's existing aircraft flying compared with buying new Joint Strike Fighters. Besides, canceling the program would not save much money since it is in its early stages, Thompson told the wire service.

Defense programs are hard for lawmakers to kill since the industry has a foothold in many Congressional districts. This problem would be magnified exponentially given the breadth of the F-35 program. But the Pentagon is faced with a huge challenge in maintaining large forces and expensive weapons systems. 

Something has to give.

--Jonathan Berr is a former Bloomberg News reporter. He doesn't own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Aug 2, 2013 7:40PM
So why did the smarter than thee types decide to kill the F-22 before they even knew if the F-35 was going to work out.  I say, let's reopen the F-22 assembly lines and get some real airplanes out on the ramp!
Aug 3, 2013 7:48AM
The defense analyst (LOBBYIST) says cancelling the project early would not save money.   Hmmm.... so cancelling after you have spent A LOT of money will somehow save more?  No wonder we are in debt.
Aug 3, 2013 2:31PM
We do not need this ! Its time for the defence dept to get cut in 1/2 ! 50% cut across the board ! The USA cannot afford to police the World any more! We are broke because of this BS!!! Get over it people !! Two unpaid for wars for over a decade has killed the USA and we are now the land of the broke!
Aug 3, 2013 7:53PM
Who they gonna fight? Drones seem to fight the wars now.
Aug 3, 2013 7:49PM
The Number 1 problem is the high Tech that go into these planes it took so long to build the first 15 planes by the time they were done the whole cockpit was all outdated. They had to be torn apart and refitted with all new Computers and so on. They don't care it's not there Money.
Aug 5, 2013 1:43AM
Typical boondoggle - buy thousands of high-tech toys for the testosterone kids in which to flash about practicing dogfights with planes no enemy can or will produce. 

If I were running a country with designs to attack the USA, I would simply build ten thousand low-tech drones at a $¼ million apiece and laugh as the F-35 jet jockeys tried to figure out how to slow their steeds down enough to battle 30 or 40 drones at a time, with only a few missiles to fire and not enough cannon rounds to down more than a drone or two..

The B-1, B-2, B-3 bombers got billions in funding, but it's the good old low-tech B-52 that warriors turn to for bomber support. A new F-18 will dance circles around the F-35 at a quarter of the price . . .
Aug 5, 2013 6:13AM
Way to go. Spend trillions on this new jet and then some jerk decides to kill the project.  Wonder how many got kickbacks on this  in the first place. Probably obama got his share since he was broke and now it is reported he is worth 13 billion. I guess with all of us paying for their vacations they have a lot of extra cash.
Aug 5, 2013 4:44AM

It's planes and techno like this that have given the US the edge for years. Just like NASA and the race to the moon created more off shoot techno that created more jobs than we could have ever imagined.

Microwave ovens, florescent light, transistors, WD-40, Kevlar, and many alloys to name a few. We are losing our edge in all techno as Obama guts the military. There are side effects of everything. I think this is one we don't want to gamble with.

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