Chronic mismanagement and cost over-runs. Incomplete software coding, timely political donations and undelivered promises. And zero accountability.
Now, imagine the outrage.
No, really. You will actually have to imagine the outrage.
That’s because The Great American Outrage Machine™ has no interest in generating a scandal around the ultimate example of government failure: the F-35 fighter jet.
Like the comically bad roll-out of the Affordable Care Act’s website, the long-delayed and often-rejiggered F-35 program is a costly disaster rife with technological snafus, software problems and repeated contractor incompetence.
Unlike the circle-jerk of posturing, pontification and media preoccupation that gave us The Shutdown of 2013, the “first $1 trillion weapon system in history” has quietly metastasized into a debacle that is, to quote Sen. John McCain, “worse than a disgrace.”
And although increasingly well-compensated contractors will “surge” over the next few weeks to remediate the epic fail of a healthcare website that has ballooned from an estimated cost of $94 million to over $400 million, it pales in comparison to an “aerospace megaproject” that is seven years behind schedule and 70% over the initial budget estimate of $233 billion—all to deliver 409 fewer planes than originally planned.
Even worse, a recent report by the Pentagon’s Inspector General detailed an array of management and quality-assurance problems at Lockheed Martin’s production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, all of which contributed to over 200 repairs on each plane. Of course, each of those repairs translates into added cost to the taxpayer-funded program. Citing the report, McClatchy’s James Rosen noted that beyond the 28 “major” problems among the total of 70 found at Lockheed’s Fort Worth facility, there were another 119 “major issues at Lockheed’s five main subcontractors’ plants.”
Despite these problems, the F-35 program soldiered on through the Congressional budget process, thus far emerging both “unscathed” by budget battles and immune to the “indiscriminate” cuts imposed by The Sequester.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the IG’s report was completed at the end of 2012, but was not released until September 30th of this year—months after the House approved $600 billion of Pentagon spending and weeks after the Senate Armed Service Committee submitted its slightly less fruitful version of the defense spending bill.
And Lockheed used the long interregnum between the completion and release of the IG’s report to simply dismiss its claims as “out-of-date” and functionally irrelevant. It is true that Lockheed has trimmed the per plane cost from, according to the Project on Government Oversight, a peak of $161 million per plane to $133 million in 2012 and, if Lockheed is to be believed, downward over the next few years to somewhere between $114 million and $156 million per plane, depending on model specifications, engine options, retrofits and upgrades.
If these numbers are a bit mind-boggling, it is only the tip of a giant contracting iceberg uncovered by Adam Ciralsky in a lengthy Vanity Fair exposé of the F-35 program. It reads like anti-government porn for hot and bothered budget hawks. Here are some of the “sexier” details: