Armed Forces News

An F-35 Lightning II endures freezing temperatures in the 96th Test Wing's McKinley Climatic Laboratory Jan. 27, 2015, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The joint strike fighter has undergone four months of climate testing in the lab to certify the fleet to deploy to any corner of the world. (Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr./Released)

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) again has garnered the scrutiny of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – the federal government’s top watchdog.

“Operational testing of the F-35 continues to be delayed – primarily by holdups in developing an aircraft simulator – even as DoD [the Defense Department] goes forward with the purchase of up to 152 aircraft a year,” GAO stated in an April 25 report. “The more aircraft produced before testing is complete, the more it might cost to retrofit those aircraft if issues are discovered.”

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The report is the latest of a series GAO has produced since 2001, each of which identified problems with delivering the aircraft to the services on time and within budget. GAO also noted that DoD is four years into a modernization effort for the aircraft called Block 4 that remains beset with cost overruns and schedule delays. The project’s program office has extended the Block 4 development and delivery deadlines into fiscal year 2029 (Oct. 1, 2028-Sept. 30, 2029). GAO noted that this new target date is three years beyond the initial plan, and acknowledged that DoD is taking steps to “improve timeliness and quality of software deliveries.” But it is too soon to determine if such efforts are bearing improved results, the report stated.

Congress directed GAO to take this latest look at the F-35 because of the litany of aforementioned concerns.

“The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program remains DoDs’s most expensive weapons program,” the report stated. “It is estimated to cost over $1.7 trillion to buy, operate and sustain.”

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