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DID THE EGGS IN THE F-35 BASKET BREAK?

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F-35

Joint Strike Fighter Delayed from July 2015 to 2016
By Harold Hutchison

The F-35 Lightning II has suffered what some are characterizing as a “major delay” – and that delay will adversely affect the ability of the United States to fight wars. The delay is yet another for the plane, which was expected to take on a greater role after the halt of F-22 production at 187 airframes.

According to a report by the Washington Free Beacon, a Government Accountability Office report warns that “delivery of warfighting capabilities could be delayed by as much as 13 months” for the F-35 due to software problems. This comes after news emerged that stolen F-35 technology is reportedly being used on the Chinese Communists’ J-20 fighter.

To fix the problems, the GAO stated that the “Department of Defense (DOD) will have to increase funds steeply over the next 5 years and sustain an average of $12.6 billion per year through 2037; for several years, funding requirements will peak at around $15 billion.” The increased costs in an era where the Obama Administration has been pushing for defense cuts, including the retirement of the A-10 Thunderbolt.

During the Obama Administration’s successful effort to halt F-22 production, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a 16 July, 2009 speech at the Economic Club of Chicago, “We also took into consideration the capabilities of the newest manned combat aircraft program, the stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35 is 10 to 15 years newer than the F-22, carries a much larger suite of weapons, and is superior in a number of areas – most importantly, air-to-ground missions such as destroying sophisticated enemy air defenses. It is a versatile aircraft, less than half the total cost of the F-22, and can be produced in quantity with all the advantages produced by economies of scale – some 500 will be bought over the next five years, more than 2,400 over the life of the program. And we already have eight foreign development partners. It has had development problems to be sure, as has every advanced military aircraft ever fielded. But if properly supported, the F-35 will be the backbone of America’s tactical aviation fleet for decades to come if – and it is a big if – money is not drained away to spend on other aircraft that our military leadership considers of lower priority or excess to our needs.” As of December, 2013, only 100 F-35s had been produced, and the plane is still in flight testing, and has not deployed.

The GAO report noted that unit costs of the F-35 ranged from $124.8 million to $156.8 million, against a flyaway costs ranging from $116 million to $137 million per F-22 around the time the plane was slated for cancellation. It raises tough questions: Was cancelling the F-22 for the Air Force a bad idea? Have the eggs in the F-35 basket broken? Will these delays help the ChiComs and Russians catch up?

The answers mean a lot for not only American pilots, but the troops on the ground as well.

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