Apr 23, 2014

Lockheed wins out over taxpayers in the F-35 procurement nightmare

The history of the F-35 is that of a defence procurement disaster. But contrary to the claims of the Pentagon, the program is still not under control.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The Joint Strike Fighter (pictured) -- or the F-35 Lightning II, to give it its proper name -- is a plane that divides defence commentators. Some say the aircraft, the most expensive United States defence project in history, is the future of air warfare, and the US and its allies will control the skies with its low radar visibility and high-tech information processing software. Others say it is a piece of junk that is already uncompetitive. We can defer to air warfare experts on which view is correct, or whether the truth lies somewhere in between. What is not in dispute is that the aircraft's builder, Lockheed Martin, has comprehensively triumphed over taxpayers and governments. The JSF program, as the US Department of Defense has itself acknowledged, was out of control from the awarding of the contract to Lockheed Martin in 2001, with commitments from the British, Australian and Canadian and several European governments, until at least 2010, when the program was the subject of a brutal Pentagon memo describing its extensive flaws and ballooning costs. By that stage, the program was 57% over budget and six years behind schedule, and had incurred what is called a Nunn-McCurdy breach, the point at which costs go so far beyond budget that the Defense Secretary has to provide an explanation for it or risk the program being defunded by Congress. By that stage, too, the Pentagon had actually acquired F-35s before they were even flown. The head of the program was sacked, the plane delayed yet another year, and Lockheed Martin "punished" with more than half a billion dollars in withheld bonuses -- though the overall project will now cost over US$390 billion. Both the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin now insist that is ancient history. The Pentagon says the program is under control, and is scaling up to eventually purchasing 100 F-35s a year. Australia now says it will have 70 of the planes -- it has already purchased 12, and will pick up another 58 for $12 billion. The Royal Australian Air Force says it eventually wants about 100 of them. The problem is, the F-35 program is not under control, even according to the US government. In September, the Pentagon Inspector-General issued yet another in a long line of scathing reports about the program, having found over 700 separate problems with the program's administration that led to over 300 findings. "The F-35 Program did not sufficiently implement or flow down technical and quality management system requirements to prevent the fielding of nonconforming hardware and software," the Inspector-General found. "This could adversely affect aircraft performance, reliability, maintainability, and ultimately program cost."

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29 thoughts on “Lockheed wins out over taxpayers in the F-35 procurement nightmare

  1. mikeb

    ………..and they label the pink batts initiative a debacle.

  2. Liamj

    Searching for an upside .. i don’t think Indo or China will feel threatened by a plane that comes to bits.

    But surely it’d be cheaper to just give the chickenhawks involved in floating this obscene scam 100mil each in f*off money.

  3. Grumpy Old Sod

    I am NOT an air war specialist or any war specialist of any type but I do ask the question that given that Iran (and presumably Russia) are said to have the capability of detecting both by radar and satellite low radar signature aircraft by the wake they leave in the atmosphere and that their air to air missiles are meant to be so lethal as to give the pilot only 2 seconds warning before the destruction of the aircraft, what use will these aircraft be to us if we can’t defend ourselves from that type of threat? Have these aircraft got the capability to defend themselves from that capability? If they haven’t then I sure don’t want to see Australian Air Force pilots dying needlessly in a war which I can bet we will have no need to be in anyway if our past history is any indication.

  4. Venise Alstergren

    All in all it sounds as if it should be called ‘The Flying Coffin.

    But hey, now we know why we’re all being kicked in the gonads over the MediCare Health Care issue. The government obviously thinks that a few elderly folk meeting with an early demise are a small price to pay for purchasing these Flying Coffins. America the land of the screw. Australia, happy to be screwed.

  5. Electric Lardyland

    Strange, it seems like only yesterday, that this government was muttering about cutting pensions and Medicare locals, because of that terrible “budget emergency”.

  6. Bo Gainsbourg

    The Age of entitlement for defense contractors seems to go on forever doesn’t it. I await with baited breath the pursuit of the inefficiencies and wast of taxpayer money in this project with the same fervour that fuelled the coverage of the progams building decent buildings for school kids and getting loads of houses better insulated.

  7. CML

    And the Collins class Submarines from SA were a disaster!!!!!
    Sounds like this lot will be a much larger stuff-up, take longer (if ever) to get right, and cost a sh+t load of money in the process.
    Maybe we are not so bad at these things as some people (read LNP and supporters) like to make out!

  8. Bill Hilliger

    Aren’t our political leaders lucky that they don’t have to explain to the good Aussie sheeples that it’s money not well spent, except to keep the US war materials economy just chugging along fine. We do enjoy our cuts to pensions, health, general welfare, research, schooling, etc. to pay for all this. Additionally we’re being told to work longer because pensions and old age services are becoming less affordable. What nobody in the politics of predicting and making/defending war together with the plethora of experts can tell us Australian sheeples is that who our current enemies actually are. It can’t be China, Indonesia, Vietnam or Japan as they are all our best friends and we trade with them. Indeed, if China decided to curtail trade with us we would be stuffed and not able to afford the Americam war toys. Oh yes, I forgot, the US has nominated Iran as a probable enemy, and the old catch-all standby of terrorism from unidentified rogue countries. I note Iran has gone quiet since the Crimea/Russian issues. I for one would love to see my pension and services cut to pay for those lovely hi tech aircraft.

  9. Electric Lardyland

    Yes, Bill, this is just another reason why the modern neo-con shouldn’t be let anywhere near government. That is, while they gibber endlessly about the need to cut government spending, none of them seem to have any real conception, that spending on intelligence agencies, police, prisons and especially defence, is actually government spending. Like, today we had the bizarre claim that spending on this project, wasn’t really government spending; more just using a bit of money that had been tucked away.
    Oh, the hypocrisy!

  10. fractious

    See also:
    Ben Sandilands’ Plane Talking blog (search JSF, F-35 Lightning II), and

    the 4 Corners doco “Reach For the Sky” Feb 19 2013

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