GAO: Lockheed F-35's cost to rise by $1 billion on extra testing

In an August, 2013 file photo, crew members aboard the USS Wasp prepare an F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter for testing by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers off the coast of North Carolina.


By TONY CAPACCIO | Bloomberg | Published: April 24, 2017

Flight testing of Lockheed Martin's F-35, the Pentagon's costliest program, will take about a year to complete and require at least $1 billion more than planned, Congress's watchdog agency said.

Citing "cascading testing delays," the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued Monday that development testing should be completed before the Defense Department makes "significant new investments" in the fighter jet.

The Pentagon's program office has said the flight testing will be completed by January or February and cost an additional $532 million that can be absorbed in funding for the F-35 program and not from the military services.

But that timeline "is optimistic as it does not reflect historical F-35 test data," the GAO said in its annual report on the fighter, which cited continuing flaws in the software required to the give the advanced plane its full capabilities.

"Program officials estimate that a delay of five months will contribute to a total increase of $532 million to complete development," the GAO said. But "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 program's cost and schedule estimates to complete development are hundreds of millions of dollars below and several months under other independent estimates, including our own," the GAO said.

The Pentagon's acting weapons buyer, James MacStravic, said in written comments in the report that the program has undergone a comprehensive assessment and "so far, the testing remains on track to complete in February 2018."

"This assessment considered historical data and the recommendations from multiple DoD organizations."

The GAO report comes as the Defense Department is mulling an increase in its fiscal 2018 request for F-35s to a planned 70 from the 63 requested this year. The number would rise to 80 in fiscal 2019. There's also a pending "block buy" of 450 aircraft in the coming years as the Pentagon seeks a total fleet of 2,443, including 1,763 for the Air Force.

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