At the end of the Trump administration, the acting secretary of defense called it a "piece of…" The Air Force chief admitted the F-35 would never be able to live up to its original purpose. And now, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee said we should stop throwing money down the F-35 "rathole."
This all comes as the program is rightfully on a list of programs facing a Pentagon review that could result in recommended cuts to the total number of aircraft to be purchased. It signals a tectonic shift in support for a program that previously received near universal official support from the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.
This shift is due to the sudden realization in Washington, despite years of warnings, that the F-35 is too challenging and costly to maintain.
And if there are to be major changes to the F-35 program, now is the time to do it. Otherwise, if the program does manage to squeak through operational testing, Congress could then authorize a bulk purchase of F-35s, something the program office and the manufacturer have wanted for years. But even if the plane is technically deemed operational, such a move would saddle the services with hundreds of flawed, high-maintenance aircraft, which will depress readiness rates, further strain the already harrowed maintenance crews, and require years of costly retrofits.
At the very least, further production should be halted until the program completes operational testing. Testing continues to reveal design flaws in the F-35 —at last count in January, there were 871 of them which is only two fewer than the year before. Until the testing process is complete and engineers work through solutions to these problems, the F-35s purchased now will be built with these flaws, and then later require extensive and expensive modifications later on to fix problems that have yet to be revealed in the testing process.