At some point, one must simply admire the resolve of the Congressional Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Caucus, who continue to push for inflated spending despite the preponderance of bad press surrounding the aircraft.
First, consider the difficulties facing the F-35. In development for nearly 18 years and more than eight years behind schedule, total acquisition costs for the JSF now exceed $428 billion, nearly double the initial estimate of $233 billion. An April 22, 2019, Bloomberg article noted that the lifetime operation and maintenance costs of the most expensive weapon system in history will total approximately $1.2 trillion, or 20 percent more than the $1 trillion reported in April 2015 by the Government Accountability Office.
Nevertheless, argued the Congressional JSF Caucus in a March 17, 2020 letter to the Chairman and Ranking Members of the House Armed Services Committee and Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, the Department of Defense (DOD) must purchase 19 additional aircraft in fiscal year (FY) 2021, beyond the 79 it intended to acquire.
The letter is authored by the four co-chairs of the caucus, House Appropriations Committee member Martha Roby (R-Ala.), House Armed Services Committee member Michael Turner (R-Ohio), and Reps. John Larson (D-Ct.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas). Along with 126 other members of Congress who co-signed, the letter encouraged a 24 percent increase in the JSFs purchased. Inexplicably, it urged increased support of the F-35 in order to “…further reduce overall program costs.”
Perhaps more tellingly, the letter argued that the platform “…bolsters our domestic economy by supporting more than 1,800 suppliers and more than 254,000 direct and indirect jobs across the country.” Finite national security spending should never be influenced by a need to protect local jobs.
The 130 legislators on the letter is an increase of 37 from the number that signed a similar letter in 2019. The notion that roughly one-third of the House of Representatives believe it’s a good idea to spend unrequested money on the deeply troubled JSF program is a distressing signal of fiscal irresponsibility in Congress.
At around $80 million per plane, adding 19 F-35s would increase initial JSF spending by approximately $1.5 billion in FY 2021. Of course, the cost jump would not end there. For every JSF purchased in the interim, additional funding will be required down the road in order to fix known flaws that currently exist in the F-35. The FY 2019 DOD Operational Test and Evaluation Annual Report, released to the public on January 30, 2020, identified 873 unresolved deficiencies in the JSF program, including 13 Category 1 items – the most serious flaws that could endanger aircrew and aircraft.
Unfortunately, such arguments are unlikely to dissuade the Congressional JSF Caucus, as the group has proven remarkably impervious to all critical news surrounding their pet project. Legislators added $1.7 billion worth of earmarks to fund the acquisition of 16 JSFs beyond those requested by the Pentagon in FY 2019; expect more of the same in FY 2021.