F-35 Stealth Fighter is Now "Too Big to Fail" — $400 Billion Later


Apparently "too big to fail" is not unique to the financial industry.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) posed the question to the Senate Appropriations Committee as to whether Lockheed Martin's latest stealth fighter development program is "too big to fail." The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet program is fraught with high financial demands and structural issues, yet is still expected to continue forward despite the issues.

Like most government plans, things are not going as expected.

Given the investment to date, scrapping the program in light of delays or costs does not seem to be a reasonable option. While the program is far from perfect, the latest Government Accountability Office report illustrates progress and provides good reason to continue working to repair the issues. Starting from scratch and making another large initial investment of $20-30 billion dollars into another development program sounds to be a much less promising option, considering recent improvements. Certainly modifications or changes to the program can preserve the initial work and repair some of the issues.

Lockheed Martin's new radar evading fighter aircraft is currently under development and is slated to cost 12.6 billion dollars annually until 2037 — which will then cost the Department of Defense another $1 trillion to maintain the sexy-supersonic-stealth fighter jet. The "F-35 Lightning II, the Joint Strike Fighter" is the DOD's "most costly and ambitious aircraft acquisition," bringing the total estimate to around 400 billion dollars in spending.

The only non-governmental representative present at the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on the issue seems to think he's got a solid plan of attack on the issue.

Representing the Bookings Institute, Michael O'Hanlon raised concern over the future plans for the pricey pinnacle of military technology. He proposed that halving the project could save close to five billion dollars annually. However, despite the concern over the problems facing the research, development, and production of the aircraft, O'Hanlon still believes in the project.  

The aircraft has been designed to try and meet the needs of the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Basically, it looks like Lockheed Martin might be trying to unrealistically make the perfect aircraft that fits the needs of three branches of the military, per the request of the government. The CATO Institute's defense expert Ben Friedman told the Daily Caller that this was the first mistake: "One of the main problems with having too many chefs in the kitchen generating requirements for this thing is that it became impossibly complex." The Marine Corps' version of the aircraft is facing the most trouble and has been placed on probation.  

The investments have been made and it seems that improvements or continued modifications to the program will provide the best outcome and use for the already invested funds. Modifications to the goals of the project might also alleviate some of the strain. Creative pressure on Lockheed Martin and implementing some of O'Hanlon's suggestions sound to be the best option to preserve the investment.

It looks like the investment into the new F-35 has made it "too big to fail."