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Watchdog Says Pentagon Should Hold Off on Full F-35 Production

Michael Rainey

View from the boom operator's hatch as an F-35 takes on fuel from a KC-135 of the 912d ARS

The Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin are eager to ramp up production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but a congressional watchdog is warning that full production should wait until hundreds of ongoing technical issues are fixed.

The Pentagon has requested $9.8 billion to begin full-rate production of the F-35 in 2019. If approved, Lockheed Martin will start producing between 70 and 105 jets per year for the next 12 years, and then roughly 60 jets per year until 2044, at an annual cost of approximately $10.4 billion. Before production can be ramped up, though, the jet needs to officially end its developmental phase, which has stretched to 17 years, and enter into 12 months of combat testing.

But the world’s most expensive weapons system – the stealthy jet has an estimated lifetime cost of $1.45 trillion over the next 50 years – is still dogged by hundreds of technical deficiencies, according to a

Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday. The GAO said that as of January 2018, the F-35 has 111 category 1 problems – defined as “those that could jeopardize safety, security, or another critical requirement” – and 655 category 2 problems, “those that could impede or constrain successful mission accomplishment.” The deficiencies include breakage of aerial refueling probes, extremely short tire service life, and oxygen deprivation for pilots.  

The GAO recommended that the Pentagon “resolve all critical deficiencies before making a full-rate production decision,” and said that defense officials have agreed.

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