It’s been a bad month for the F-35, the ever-delayed fifth-generation fighter plane. A congressional report obtained by Bloomberg this week identifies a range of flaws with the plane’s computer system, while a different software glitch discovered in December could render the plane’s on-board cannon unusable for years. On top of that, NSA leaker Edward Snowden recently claimed that China stole terabytes of data relating to the F-35 program. The veracity of that specific claim aside, espionage probably helps explain why China has made so much progress in the development of its own next-generation fleet.
The Pentagon has stuck with the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter program despite dozens of earlier technical problems and delays, strategic concerns, and massive cost overruns that have nearly doubled the initial cost estimate, raising the cost of building the planes to around $US400 billion with a lifetime cost of up to $US1.5 trillion.
One reason why the project has become such a boondoggle is that many states and countries are significantly invested in the plane, relying on its production for income and jobs and making it politically untenable to kill or scale back the program.
Every US state but Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Wyoming has economic ties to the F-35, with 18 states counting on the project for $US100 million or more in economic activity, according to primary contractor Lockheed Martin.
All told, the project is supposedly responsible for 32,500 jobs in the US. Globally, another nine countries have major ties to the F-35, which means that US allies are not only set to receive the F-35 but depend on it for economic stimulus and prestige as well.
One way or another, America’s Multirole fifth-generation fighter is coming — even as the setbacks keep coming.
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