GAO: DoD's F-35 jet acquisition program faces financial turbulence

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter | Contributed photo
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (also called the Lightning II) program, which found that the Department of Defense (DoD) faces affordability and accountability challenges.

The program is the DoD’s most expensive and elaborate to date, with the estimated purchase costs at  approximately $400 billion. The GAO has been following the program since 2001, including its schedule, costs and performance issues, and completed its most recent review, as the program plans to boost production in the next few years, in accordance with a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015.

The program’s acquisition costs have fallen since 2014, but it is still facing financial challenges as DoD plans to spend over $14 billion each year for almost a decade to purchase more F-35s. It still needs to complete 20 percent of its development testing, which includes complex mission systems and software testing.

DoD also plans to spend approximately $3 billion over the next six years on F-35 modernization, which it is managing as part of the program baseline. In its report, the GAO recommends that the modernization, known as Block 4, be treated as a separate defense-acquisition program, as it would be subject to limited oversight if kept as part of the overall program.

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