The Pentagon is pushing ahead with its plans for an F-35 block buy as part of its 2018 National Defense Authorization Act proposal. While hardly unexpected, this move is deeply troubling. Whether called a "block buy" or "economic order quantity," it would be a ramp-up in production, which the Government Accountability Office recently warned against.
The F-35 program has still not finished the design phase, let alone the critical operational testing period necessary to determine whether the F-35 can actually fulfill its intended combat role. Until that happens, all the American people will get for the $661 million is a pile of parts for an unproven prototype.
Until the program successfully completes combat testing, it is impossible to know if any of the parts to be purchased will work in the final design. More importantly, it is still possible that the entire program could fail in testing. That could result in either a reduced number of F-35s purchased, or see the entire program cancelled.
Federal law allows multiple-year contracts to purchase government property so long as certain criteria have been met. Congress typically authorizes most weapons buying programs on a year-by-year basis to ensure proper oversight of the program and to maintain incentives for the contractor to satisfactorily perform. According to Title 10 U.S.C., Section 2306b, for a program to be eligible for multiyear procurement, the contract must promote national security, result in substantial savings, have little chance of being reduced, and have a stable design. The F-35 seems to be failing at least two of the first three criteria and is most certainly failing the fourth.
At an absolute minimum, the F-35 test program already in place must be executed to understand, before further production, exactly what this aircraft can and cannot do competently. That means suspending further F-35 production—including production of the parts that will go into it—until those tests are complete and honestly reported to the Secretary of Defense, the President, and Congress.