When speaking about the F-35, it seems almost a default for many in the media to zero in on the problems with the program. As Loren Thompson points out in Forbes this week, the word most often used is “troubled” when speaking about the 5th generation fighter jet. But what about the areas where the program is succeeding?
In a timely piece that successfully counters some of the negative attention on the program, Thompson points out the many successes of the F-35 in recent months, calling the program the “Pentagon’s best-kept secret.”
From his article:
If you pay any attention to media coverage of the F-35 fighter program, then you know the Pentagon’s biggest weapons program is “troubled” (to use the favored adjective of reporters). Flight tests are lagging, costs are skyrocketing, and overseas partners are beginning to get cold feet. So the Joint Strike Fighter, as it used to be called, is looking like another black eye for the Pentagon’s fouled up acquisition system, right?
Wrong. The reality is that for the third straight year flight tests are ahead of schedule, the cost to build each plane is falling fast, and international partners are so enthused that new customers are getting in line for the F-35 on a regular basis (South Korea will be next). So how come you don’t know any of this? The reason you don’t know it is that political appointees have decided they can score points with Congress by attacking their own program, and national media always lead with the most sensational information.
He goes on to argue that the fighter is indeed hitting many of its marks, including the much-discussed costs of production:
Obviously, any money that already has been spent can’t be recovered. However, when you look at the cost going forward to build each new plane, that’s coming down — and fast. The “unit recurring flyaway” cost for the most common variant of F-35 fell below $150 million each in the third low-rate production lot and will fall below $100 million in the fifth lot currently being negotiated. By the time its gets to the tenth production lot, the recurring flyaway cost of the most common variant will be approaching what legacy F-16 and F/A-18 fighters sell for today. Granted, that’s just what it costs to “drive it off the lot,” and doesn’t include items like training and spare parts. On the other hand, the price-tag on legacy fighters doesn’t include all the equipment they will need in combat (the F-35 price-tag does), and older fighters don’t have the F-35′s stealth.