(The Center Square) – The Department of Defense’s most expensive weapon system, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, is more than a decade behind schedule and $183 billion over initial cost estimates, according to a watchdog report.
On top of acquisition costs, the government estimates that the costs to operate and maintain the F-35 fleet for its planned 77-year life is at least $1.3 trillion. That brings the total cost of the program to nearly $1.7 trillion, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The F-35 program has faced challenges since its development in 2001. The Department of Defense started development “without adequate knowledge of its critical technologies or a solid design,” according to the report. Further, the program called for building aircraft while continuing to tweak it. The GAO reported that those factors were “major drivers of the program’s eventual significant cost and schedule growth, among other performance shortfalls.”
Maryland-based Lockheed Martin is the contractor for the aircraft. Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney is the contractor for the engine.
“The program’s cost reporting mechanisms do not fully explain the reasons for cost growth,” according to a summary of the report. “Consequently, Congress does not have a complete picture of escalating F-35 modernization costs.”
The program has run into issues with the fighter’s engine and cooling system.
“The cooling system is overtasked, requiring the engine to operate beyond its design parameters,” the Government Accountability Office reported. “The extra heat is increasing the wear on the engine, reducing its life, and adding $38 billion in maintenance costs.”
The Government Accountability Office recommended the engine modernization project be made into a separate project that would remain subject to Congressional oversight, among other recommendations.
The Department of Defense’s F-35 program started in 2001 with a goal to build a stealth fifth-generation fighter to replace a range of U.S. military aircraft. About 125 of the planes are being built each year. The plane can fly 1,200 mph and carry 18,000 pounds of weapons with a range of about 1,300 miles, according to Lockheed Martin.