So for $400 billion (and counting), the U.S. has bought an "immature system," a combat fighter still unfit for combat, a plane that has spent much of 2013 grounded for various malfunctions. The General Accounting Office (GOA) report issued this month offers good news of the it's-not-as-bad-as-it-used-to-be kind, as in the finding that production costs are "trending" downwards toward targets.
The program continues to make design changes in the F-35 at the rate of about 200 per month, even as the plane continues in production, creating what amounts to a permanent process of retrofitting. The GAO projects that F-35 flight testing may be complete some time in 2017 and the plane might not be ready for combat before 2019.
No wonder the F-35 Program Executive Officer, Lt.-General Christopher Bogdan, has expressed dissatisfaction with the companies making the plane. The general, who has been with the program since July 2012 and became director in December, didn't use the word "profiteering" to call out two major defense contractors for their shoddy-but-profitable performance on the F-35, but he came close:
"What I see Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney [subsidiary of United Technologies Corp.] doing today is 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". I want them both to start behaving like they want to be around for 40 years, I want them to take on some of the risk of this program, I want them to invest in cost reductions, I want them to do the things that will build a better relationship. I'm not getting all that love yet."
CONGRESS ISN'T DOING ITS JOB IN THIS AREA, EITHER
Congressional oversight, which is intended to keep debacles like the F-35 from happening, has failed utterly. Instead, according to Leahy who, as the senior Democratic Senator, is the president pro tem of the Senate and third in the line of succession to the Presidency, leadership is no longer possible.
Like the rest of the Vermont Congressional delegation, which includes Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, Leahy has struck a pose of self-imposed helplessness when is comes to basing the world's most expensive and not-yet-operational weapons system in the middle of Vermont's only significant population center, suggesting that the decision is entirely up to the Air Force and civilian control of the military is an outmoded concept of some other America.
At present, the Air Force has twice postponed making a final decision as to whether the F-35 should be based at the Burlington (VT) International Airport, even though the Air Force's own environmental report warns that the F-35 is four times as loud as current fighters in Burlington, and that this increase in noise is likely to render at lease 1,300 homes -- and perhaps more than 3,000 homes -- "unsuitable for residential use."