The U.S. military has signaled that it might cancel essential upgrades for more than 100 early-model F-35 stealth fighters flown by the Air Force, rendering the radar-evading jets incompatible with many of the latest weapons.
In that case, some 6 percent of the flying branch’s planned 1,700-strong F-35 fleet would be unfit for combat, sticking U.S. taxpayers with a $20 billion tab for fighters... that can’t fight.
Experts say the military never should have bought the planes the first place, as they rolled out of Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth factory before the F-35’s design was complete and thoroughly tested—a deliberate strategy called “concurrency” that the military hoped would speed up the program’s progress.
“The risk that the services would be stuck with less-than-capable aircraft is one that the Pentagon knowingly took when leaders decided to overlap the development and testing of the program with the production,” wrote Dan Grazier, an analyst with the Project on Government Oversight in Washington, D.C.
Skipping upgrades for 108 older F-35As — “concurrency orphans,” Grazier dubbed them — is reportedly one option under consideration as the Pentagon tries to find money for scores of newer F-35s. “We’re looking at solution spaces to give our warfighters options,” Navy Vice Adm. Matt Winter, head of the F-35 program, told Flight Global. The military asked Congress to fund 70 F-35s in 2018 for $10.3 billion.
A spokesperson for the F-35 program did not respond to a request for comment.
The Navy and Marines also possess 81 F-35s with Block 2B software. It’s unclear whether they, too, could be passed over for upgrades. (end of excerpt)
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