WASHINGTON (AP) – The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s record on cost, schedule and performance has been a scandal and a tragedy, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told senior Pentagon officials Tuesday during a withering critique of the most expensive weapons program in U.S. military history.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said during an oversight hearing held by the committee that the aircraft’s development schedule has stretched to 15 years, deliveries of the F-35 have been delayed, and costs have skyrocketed.
“It’s been a scandal and the cost overruns have been disgraceful,” McCain said. “And it’s a textbook example of why this committee has placed such a high priority on reforming the broken defense acquisition system.”
Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall and Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program manager, said the they are “making solid progress” with the F-35 and are confident of overcoming the challenges.
“The F-35 is no longer a program that keeps me up at night,” Kendall said.
The Pentagon plans to spend close to $400 billion to buy nearly 2,500 F-35s for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The budget request for fiscal year 2017 includes $8.3 billion to purchase 63 aircraft. The F-35, which is being designed to meet the specific requirements of each of the services, cost over $100 million each. Bogdan said he anticipates reducing the per-unit cost of the Air Force’s version to under $85 million by 2019.
McCain quizzed Bogdan on how many people are needed to oversee the F-35 program. The general told him there are about 2,600 people and it costs $70 million a year to operate the program office.
“The information that I have is it’s nearly 3,000 (people), and the cost is $300 million a year, “McCain said. “But $70 million a year to run an office is … pretty disturbing.”
The F-35 is being produced by Maryland-based Lockheed Martin and the plane is being built at the company’s Fort Worth plant.