Where out of control! President Elect Donald Trump has repeatedly mentioned the necessity to cut government waste and abuse. Amidst allegations of rampant waste in the Pentagon, Trump has attacked the new Air Force One deal, and, most recently, the F-35 program. To “The Donald”, it may seem as easy as saying “you’re fired”, but things may be a bit more complex.
The next generation of fighter plane, the F-35 is supposed to be the most technologically advanced fighter ever created. Connected to all facets of the modern battlefield, this plane is supposed to take the next step, from situational awareness to situational understanding, effectively eliminating the infamous "fog of war".
Problems with the program emerged with continuous delays, the budget stretching and, finally, exploding. The F-35 program cost has, therefore, ballooned to over $1.5 trillion, while the first combat ready aircraft have only been declared as such in the past few months. There is no question that the program has underperformed, while costs have skyrocketed, but can it be stopped now?
The President Elect may want to end the fraud, waste, and abuse, but I would contend that his emphasis needs to be on future programs. The F-35 has been in development for far too long, with far too much money spent to be abandoned now. Ending the program (or even curtailing future procurement) will result in increased spending, not less. Curtailing procurement will increase unit cost which will, in turn, turn off potential buyers from future investment. We also cannot neglect to address the modernization of our aircraft fleet. If we choose to kill the F-35, what do we put in its place? How much time and money do we waste choosing a new replacement aircraft?