Statement of Jon Ludwigson, GAO Director for Contracting and National Security Acquisitions, before the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, Committee on Armed Services, US House of Representatives
(Source: US General Accountability Office; issued April 27, 2022)
Chairman Norcross, Ranking Member Hartzler, and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss our work on the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35 program is a family of fifth-generation strike fighter aircraft that integrates low-observable (stealth) technology with advanced sensors and computer networking capabilities. The F-35 will be used by the Department of Defense (DOD), as well as seven international partners, to perform a wide range of missions.

DOD aims to procure a total of 2,470 F-35s to replace several other aircraft used by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. To date, the program has delivered over 700 aircraft to the U.S. services, international partners, and foreign military sales customers. The program, however, is also more than a decade delayed and $165 billion over its original plans.

DOD is now in the fourth year of a $15 billion modernization effort—known as Block 4—to upgrade the hardware and software systems of the F-35. DOD intends for Block 4 to modernize the aircraft and address new threats that emerged since the aircraft’s original requirements were established in 2000. DOD uses a development approach for Block 4, referred to as Continuous Capability Development and Delivery (C2D2).

This approach is loosely based on Agile software development processes. With this approach, DOD intends to incrementally deliver capabilities to the warfighter faster and more frequently than it did during the original development program.

The program completed development of the F-35’s original capabilities in 2018 and is undergoing initial operational testing to verify that the aircraft provides those baseline capabilities before obtaining approval to begin full-rate production. As the program moves toward completing this testing and evaluating the results, it still faces risks ahead of the full-rate production decision. Full-rate production generally is the point when a program has demonstrated an acceptable level of performance and reliability, and, in the case of the F-35, is ready for higher manufacturing rates.

Click here for the full testimony (27 PDF pages), on the GAO website.


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