The 2021 reviews of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) are in, and they are not glowing.
On Jan. 14, 2021, then-Acting Department of Defense (DOD) Secretary Christopher Miller labeled the JSF a “piece of [expletive].” Then, on March 5, 2021, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) called the program a “rathole,” and asked whether it was time to stop spending that much money for “such a low capability?”
The JSF has become the embodiment of the DOD’s broken weapons acquisition system, which has been on the Government Accountability Office’s High-Risk List since 1990. The F-35 was originally conceived as the low-end of a high-low strategy consisting of numerous cheap aircraft that would replace Cold War workhorses like the F-16 and A-10 among other aircraft. The plan was for the JSF to be complimented by a smaller fleet of more advanced fighters, to be developed later.
The program has been under continuous development since the contract was awarded in 2001 and has faced innumerable delays and cost overruns. Total acquisition costs now exceed $428 billion, nearly double the initial estimate of $233 billion, with projected lifetime operations and maintenance costs of $1.727 trillion.