PARIS --- Many observers will be surprised to see that, after 19 years of covering the F-35 program, a reputed trade publication like Defense News, whose raison d’être is covering defense programs, should suddenly “discover” that the program has many technical flaws that may preclude carrying out its missions.
But they will be far more surprised to read that Defense News claims these well-known and well-documented flaws were somehow “hidden,” and only brought to light thanks to “documents exclusively obtained by Defense News.”
The paper goes on to claim that “All but a couple of these problems have escaped intense scrutiny by Congress and the media. A few others have been briefly alluded to in reports by government watchdog groups, and adds that “But the majority of these problems have not been publicly disclosed, exposing a lack of transparency about the limitations of the Defense Department’s most expensive and high-profile weapons system.”
All reporters have a tendency to inflate their work, but the hyperventilation demonstrated here is of a level rarely attained in print journalism.
Claiming that these “problems have escaped intense scrutiny by Congress and the media” is an outright lie, and belittles the work of the many auditors, journalists and investigators that have exposed a steady stream of revelations about the program over the past two decades.
That Congress, with the notable exception of Senator John McCain, mostly chose to ignore these revelations does not justify Defense News’ ludicrous claim that the a few problems have only “been briefly alluded to in reports by government watchdog groups.”
For example, a quick search on its websit shows that the Government Accountability Office has published 188 reports, 45 testimonies and 25 other products about the F-35, and that it describes its work on the program as “For years, we've reported on the F-35 program's cost and schedule overruns, knowledge gaps, and performance issues,” of which Defense News was presumably blissfully unaware.
As it must also have been unaware of the reports published each year by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, whose sections on the F-35 grew from a couple of pages in 1997 to 170 pages in 2015 as they documented the program’s growing problems.
All of these reports have been widely reported and analyzed not only in the defense and aerospace media, but also the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Financial Times as well as Esquire, Slate and The Times.
Other government auditors in the partner countries have also investigated the F-35’s problems, as have the Congressional Research Service, the Rand Corporation and, among the many think-tanks, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO, which has published very detailed analysis of the F-35’s faults, two of them in the past three months alone:
The F-35 and the Captured State: The Pentagon lacks information to even start driving down costs
F-35 Far from Ready to Face Current or Future Threats, Testing Data Shows
We have also done our share of reporting the program’s flaws, and a search of our Features section shows we have posted 110 stories on the F-35 since 2007, most of them detailing its myriad problems, and another before 2007 on the Joint Strike Fighter, as it was then then called.
While it is a good thing that one of the leading US trade publications should finally realize that the F-35 is a very troubled program, there is no justification whatsoever for such a bombastic grab for reporting glory.