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Is the F-35 a money pit

Is the F35 looking more and more like a white elephant ? This is a point that many argue despite the successful testings of late last year. But the program, designed to replace a very large part of the US warplane fleet has become the most expensive program ever deployed (382 Bn USD), for 2,443 jet fighters. The argument is based on time, delays let’s say, and costs. The contract awarded in 2001 to Lockheed Martin had been planned for 10 years, and now has to be extended to 2016 because of testing and design issues.

F-35 jet fighter

The F-35 will replace the F-16 in the US Airforce and the F-18 in the navy. The F-35B which would have a VSTOL capability should replace the Harrier but recently the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has warned that cost overruns cannot continue, and especially addressed concerns about the F-35B. And the warning is severe as Robert Gates gave an additional 2 years to deploy this specific version of the F-35, else it would be cancelled. Another issue raised is about engines of the jet fighter, with a second engine being developed. But officials seems to say that this second engine is not needed, and yet it is being developed at billions of dollars.

But is this a real warning or will the project go on whatever the costs and delays ? We think it will go on. Because firstly, eight countries are involved in the program, including Britain, and it will prove difficult to amend or cancel a program like the F-35, even though the US is covering 90% of the costs. Secondly because there is a cultural aspect of acceptance, which is that all jet fighter programs have run late and have been over budget, so one could argue the F-35 program is no exception.

F-35 jet fighter

The third point is that the F-35 is a fantastic warplane that will give a definite strategic advantage to the countries involved in the program. And this is the most important issue. The US will benefit from a globalised and unified program and although costs of development are high, it should benefit the US thanks to its rationalization in processes, training and operations which are also very costly. The F-35 is also incredible for its capabilities, and the US would not want to see a country like China or Russia develop a competing jet fighter and then sell it all over the world.

So we can accept that the F-35 is becoming a money pit – a white elephant – but the program is too important to simply amend or cancel it.

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