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Lockheed’s F-35 Stealth Fighter: A $1.5 Trillion Waste of Tax Dollars

| October 1, 2014

Too wasteful to fail. (Samuel King)

Too wasteful to fail. (Samuel King)

By Ryan Alexander

It’s not yet clear exactly how much the Pentagon’s fancy new F-35 combat jet will cost or when any of these stealth fighters will become operational. But the F-35 already shows great promise in the tough competition to become the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken.

Because of the jet’s projected eye-popping price tag of up to $344.8 million each, we at Taxpayers for Common Sense have always kept an eye on the F-35. And we were appalled by a request from the Pentagon in early September to shift funds from the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations fund to accelerate the purchase of eight of these planes.


The contingency fund supplements the official military budget to cover direct warfighting costs. But since the F-35s aren’t operational yet, there’s no way for them to do any warfighting. Fortunately, the House Appropriations Committee nixed that particular budgetary sleight of hand.

Days later, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) weighed in on the F-35, casting yet more doubt on its affordability. Following years of developing this fighter jet, the Pentagon “has not fully addressed several key risks to long-term affordability and operational readiness,” the GAO observed.

In other words, between the considerable resources of the Pentagon and GAO, the U.S. government still can’t definitively say what the plane will cost or when it will fly in combat.

The GAO last estimated the entire F-35 program’s cost in March 2012. At that time, the estimate for the cost of developing and buying the plane and for improving military airfields where they will be based was $395.7 billion.

And it’s probably safe to bet that number has gone up in the last two and a half years. It’s not like Pentagon cost estimates ever go down. Besides, this estimate doesn’t include the cost of maintaining F-35s, and therefore leaves out a lot of what the government deems to be “sustainment ” or “life cycle” costs.

The new GAO report points to two current estimates of these long-term expenditures. One comes from the F-35 Joint Program Office. It’s — get ready — a mere $916 billion. The other estimate hails from the Pentagon’s office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) and clocks in on the other side of the trillion-dollar mark at $1.02 trillion.

other-wordsHere’s the bottom line: Developing, buying, basing, and maintaining the F-35 is currently estimated to cost close to one and a half trillion dollars.

That does sound like a lot of money, right? But the GAO says both estimates could actually be too low and that it could cost more than a trillion dollars just to keep this airplane in the air.

I’d like to put that number in perspective: Spending $1.5 trillion to purchase the jets and keep them combat-ready for many years is several hundred billion dollars more than the entire federal discretionary budget for one year. It’s also triple the Pentagon’s entire annual budget.

Congress was a little late in asking the GAO to assess the real costs of keeping the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter flying. But it’s still not too late to curtail this massive program.

The Pentagon has other options, as my organization explains in our own report. I hope Congress keeps a microscope on this massive weapon system. A trillion and a half dollars is too much to squander like this.

Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

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15 Responses for “Lockheed’s F-35 Stealth Fighter: A $1.5 Trillion Waste of Tax Dollars”

  1. TeddyBallGame says:

    I’m still angry about our 5,000 plus U.S. service members dead and the 2+ trillion dollars spent (all borrowed from the Chinese that our children will have to repay) for two ill-advised, unnecessary and failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that continue to bleed us to this day. Where is the outrage about that?

  2. Twilights last Gleaming says:

    The nerve of our military. Spending all that money to protect us from terrorist and keep us in FREEDOM and LIBERTY. How dare they spend all that money which could be used for other more important programs like Bill Ayers speeches at our Universities or perhaps that Black Panther cop killer who just gave a commencement speech at another of our outstanding Colleges. Or maybe we could use 360 million on another FAILED Solar business. No, let’s give it all to the criminal illegals racing across our borders……..

    • Anonymous says:

      The F-35 program has nothing to do with freedom and liberty. It will not be used against terrorist for years, and is a poor weapon for that task any how. It is the equivelent of taking a bulldozer to pickup some milk at the grocery store….

      • Outsider says:

        You’ve been listening to Obama too much. In case you haven’t noticed, Obama is usually proven wrong in about a week of declaring something as “fact.” ISIS as a JV team pops into my mind. He said the wars of the future will be small battles fought against non-nation terrorist groups. Did he not know about Russian and Chinese ambitions? Of course not, but they are real adversaries that will require the best technology and weapons to keep in check, or possibly fight a war against. I don’t know if the F35 is a necessary part of our military, but don’t believe for a moment all future wars will be fought against JV level terrorist groups.

  3. steve says:

    I Hate to tell these liberals, but we have an aging fleet of aircraft, most with 80s technology. It would be irresponsible and even negligence to not replace them, and use the most advancements available. Like it or not we are a target….

    • MJ says:

      The US has fusion bombs that can reach any part of the world and wipe a country clean off the face of the earth. In addition, drones would be cheaper.

      You don’t seem to understand how much a trillion dollars is and what it can buy.

  4. Yellowstone says:

    Oh yeah, forgot . . . “It’s about jobs!” Right?

  5. Glad I left Palm Coast says:

    Have we forgotten that Russia is rearming and modernizing its forces? Politics and porkbarreling at its best. Should have built more F-22’s at least they can fly. Need a strong air force, its a deterrent.

  6. Groot says:

    While we do need state of the art and the very best weapons systems, all involved need to be held accountable. I agree with the comment about replacing 80s technology. The F-15, F-16 and F-18 replaced the F-4 Phantom and several attack planes and it’s now time for the next generations. But, all involved need to be held accountable. It’s kind of like the Palm Harbor GC. Oh, you ran over budget, well here you go, here is more money to waste and then no one is held accountable. You don’t get rid of a program because it runs over budget, you get rid of those who ran the program over budget.

  7. anonymous says:

    We won’t need these jets till we need them…….I am all for fiscal responsibility, but not at the cost of degrading our safety and military ability. There’s plenty of other things that tax dollars are spent wastefully on.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      But there is nothing that comes close to the waste, fraud, incompetence and downright theft from us, the American Public that has been displayed on this project. It has replaced the B1B Bomber as the pinnacle of American Military Stupidity, and the B1B cannot fly high enough to clear the Rockies with a full bomb load. But that is child’s play compared to the faults of the F-35, the most expensive fighter ever built by a factor of about 15. And for that price, we get a piece of shit that barely flies. That does not remotely meet the specs for speed, payload, climb or reliability. And was designed from the start not to be a fighter, but to be a big, fat pig to the bottom line of the Military Industrial Complex. Half of our more sensible allies have canceled their orders, which will raise the price ofr us. One Trillion Dollars spent so far on a coffin for our best pilots. And more every day tossed down this rathole.

      There used to be a joke about the fact that a camel was a horse designed by a committee. That was funny because a camel never cost anybody $350 Million. And that’s without radar, electronics or weapons systems.

      First, anybody remotely familiar with the inherent compromises of aircraft design, and I’m talking Junior High familiar, wiuld tell you that the concept of designing a plane that will serve the needs of every branch of the military, from dogfighter to close air support for ground troops and be able to take off and land on a carrier deck is just plain idiotic. If it can do more than one of these missions, it will never be the best at any one. But that was the specifications put forth by our Pentagon genuises in concert with our Mensa’s in Congress. So after the prototype fly off between Lockheed/Martin and McDonnell/Douglas was won by L/M, the Geniuses in Congress said the production model had to be converted to a single engine. You know, to save money. (!)
      So we have built over 100 of these dogs at a cost three times initial estimates without one of them yet certified to be safe to fly. The F-35 isn’t even close to fully operational – it can fly only on sunny days. It can’t fly at night. And it can’t fly in clouds or near lightning. We know this because the Pentagon tells us so, in a report written for the Secretary of Defense by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, J. Michael Gilmore, dated February 15, 2013. This summer after over a decade of testing it had to cancel an appearance at the Paris Air Show because they couldn’t say it was safe!
      So if you want to talk fizcal rezponibility, thiz boondoggle that will never ever fly right ha cot u more than the Federal Govenment zpends on education in twenty yearz!

      And it will never be a reliable az, well the letter between r and t which juzt died on my keyboard..

      • NortonSmitty says:

        Oh, the zingle engine. With one engine, it iz zo underpowered it ha to fly wide open about all the time. Zo the engine blowz up often enough to keep it grounded after ten year of modificationz. And we keep building more inztead of fixing it firzt.

  8. Sherry Epley says:

    Right ON Groot! Simply because there are plenty of “other things that tax dollars are spent wastefully on”, doesn’t mean we should double down and not hold the DOD accountable for “TRILLIONS”!

    Of course there are other options for weapons . . . just like there were probably BETTER options for our local fire truck.

    We have other priorities, that build instead of kill, and prepare our citizens for the future . . . like great PUBLIC EDUCATION through UNIVERSITY level.

  9. Another Guest says:

    The F-35 cannot be regarded as a true “fifth-generation” fighter. Because the F-35 was defined during the mid-1990s to have “affordable” aerodynamic performance, stealth performance, sensor capabilities and weapons loads to be “affordably” effective against the most common threat systems of the era past – legacy Soviet Cold War era weapons, not for the emerging 21st Century Anti-Access & Area Denial threats.

    The F-35 is designed primarily to support ground forces on the battlefield with some self defence capabilities and is not suitable for the developing regional environment and, not suitable for close air support missions. The aircraft is unsuited for air superiority, deep interdiction bombing and cruise missile defence due to limited range/endurance, limited weapons load, limited supersonic speed and limited agility. As its limitations are inherent to the design, they cannot be altered by incremental upgrades.

    The first thing to know about stealth is a scam. That it is supposed to be invisible for radar which it never was. It just reduces the cross section and visibility, making the plane look smaller on radar than it is. Nothing more or nothing less.

    Stealth is useful only against short-wavelength radar of the kind that might be carried on an interceptor or used by a radar-guided missile. Physicists say no amount of RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) coating will protect you from 15ft to 20ft wavelength radar of the kind the Russians have had since the 1940s.

    If you are putting F-35 up against the newer generation of much, much more powerful long-wave length Russian radars, as well as the P-14 Tall King and P-18 Spoon Rest family of Cold-War era radars and some of the newer Chinese radars of a ground-to-air unit that would have no difficulty detecting and tracking an approaching F-35.

    The F-35 will also be detected by the L-Band AESA which will be equipped on the Su-35S and PAK-FA. It is used for targetting which they’ll be able to track LO/VLO stealth aircraft, as well as the F-35.

    Unfortunately the large exhaust nozzle of the F-35 will be extremely hot and has a very big heat signature. which is a dead give away. The back end of the F-35 in full afterburner is something like 1600 degrees (Fahrenheit). In terms of temperature, aluminium combusts at 1100. You are talking about something really, really hot. If you have got a dirty big sensor on the front of your Su-35S or your PAK-FA or whatever, it lights up like Christmas lights and there is nothing you can do about it. The plume because of the symmetric exhaust, is all over the place. It is not shielded, it is not ducted in any useful way. The Sukhois will be able to seek and destroy the F-35 when using the heat seeking BVR (Beyond Visual Range) AA-12 (R-77) Adder air-to-air missiles.

    Don’t ever do business with Lockheed Martin. Why? Because in essence, the unethical Thana Marketing strategy used to sell the JSF, along with the acquisition malpractice of concurrency in not only development, production and testing but the actual designs of the JSF variants, themselves, have resulted in the JSF marketeers writing cheques that the aircraft designs and JSF Program cannot honour. They are bunch of crooks. Instead I’ll take my business else where. Get away from Lockheed Martin and the Joint Scam Fixture.

    The F-35 is at best a great national scandal, unproven and at worst the biggest piece of high-tech boondoggle to ever come out of United States of America. It is time to scrap this lemon dustbin awaits.

    With the money saved restart F-22 production, make the Super F-15 TVC ‘Golden’ Eagle from C model airframes rebuilt and updated and then build some Silent Eagles to replace Strike Eagles. The F-15 line is still operational, so it is much more feasible to upgrade/develop F-15s. Also send in some upgraded F-16’s in the mix. Sack the entire JSF program and get the FBI to send some of those corporate fatcats to prison-demand all money unspent refunded to taxpayers. The Pentagon, Congress, Lockheed Martin, and the idiotic Air Force top brasses have turned the USAF and the allies into a complete sorry mess.

  10. Another Guest says:

    You call that “Too wasteful to fail”. Look at it now, it is already wasting the taxpayers money and very soon it will end up “Too Big to fly & maintain” and “Too Vulnerable”.

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