Watchdog: Delayed testing could add $1B to F-35 program

Watchdog: Delayed testing could add $1B to F-35 program
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Delayed testing could add more than $1 billion to the cost of the F-35 fighter jet program, according to a government watchdog.

In a report released Monday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended completing developmental testing before making “significant new investments” in the program.

“Cascading F-35 testing delays could cost the Department of Defense (DOD) over a billion dollars more than currently budgeted to complete development of the F-35 baseline program,” the report says.

Critics have long slammed Lockheed Martin's F-35 program, estimated to cost $400 billion for 2,457 planes, as a costly boondoggle.

President Trump was among the critics, tweeting prior to his inauguration that the costs of the program were “out of control.”

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But he’s lately been touting the February agreement to buy 90 more planes, which costs $728 million less than the last batch. Trump has taken credit for negotiating a cost decrease, though experts have said the price per plane was already on the decline.

In tweets, Trump also pitted Lockheed against rival Boeing, saying that he asked Boeing to price out an F-18 that’s comparable to the F-35.

Since the tweets, Trump has met several times with Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson and has been praising her recently.

In a Friday interview with The Associated Press, Trump again touted the decrease in price for the latest F-35 buy.

"We went from a company that wanted more money for the planes to a company that cut. And the reason they cut — same planes, same everything — was because of me."

In Monday’s report, the GAO said the Pentagon’s estimated developmental testing schedule is too optimistic and not based on historical data.

The Pentagon estimates the testing will be done by February 2018 and cost an extra $532 million.

But the GAO said based on historical F-35 flight test data, the testing is more likely to be completed in May 2018. Continued problems with the plane’s software have contributed to testing delays, according to the report.

“The longer delay estimated by GAO will likely contribute to an increase of more than $1.7 billion, approximately $1.3 billion of which will be needed in fiscal year 2018,” the report adds.

With delays in development testing, $1.2 billion in new efforts for fiscal 2018 “may be premature,” the report says. Those efforts include upgrading software and putting a down payment on spare parts.

In written comments included in the report, the Pentagon disagreed with the GAO’s recommendations.

James MacStravic, acting undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the Pentagon’s testing timeline considered historical data and recommendations from multiple Pentagon offices.

“DoD already completed a comprehensive assessment of the cost and time needed to complete developmental testing in the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase, and so far, the testing remains on track to complete in February 2018,” he wrote in the response.

“As the developmental testing winds down during the remainder of 2017, DoD will continue to assess the assumptions and decisions made, and communicate any necessary adjustments relative to both cost and time need to complete developmental testing.”

— This story was updated at 3:10 p.m.