High costs and concerns about affordability threaten the future of the F-35 joint strike fighter, the program executive officer for the aircraft warned May 13.
The jet is the most expensive acquisition effort in the history of the Defense Department. Current Pentagon plans call for procuring more than 2,400 of the platforms — including the A, B and C variants operated by the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, respectively — at a cost of about $400 billion. The price tag for operations and sustainment is expected to top $1 trillion during the lifecycle of the aircraft.
“I see cost as the program’s greatest enemy,” said Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, PEO for the F-35, at the McAleese and Associates annual defense programs conference. “I see high costs as an existential threat to the F-35 as an enterprise. And that cost happens not just in development, not just in production, but in sustainment as well.”
Problems associated with technology refresh 3, or TR3, are impacting the move to Block 4 capabilities which are needed for the jet to be effective in a future high-end fight against advanced adversaries, Fick noted. While a handful of the new capabilities have already been delivered, the tech refresh is needed to enable the remainder of the 70 or so upgrades planned for Block 4, which includes 14 new weapons and a number of software-enabled systems.