Given all of its problems, why is the F-35 program still alive? It’s mostly due to technological hubris and pork barrel politics. Lockheed Martin and the Air Force continue to assert that the planes can be made to work as advertised. For their part, key legislators like the 49 members of the Congressional Joint Strike Fighter Caucus want to continue a program that creates jobs in their districts — albeit not nearly as many as the company claims.
In fact, a study conducted earlier this year by the Center for International Policy demonstrated that the bulk of F-35 jobs were concentrated in just two states — Texas and California.
Members of Congress who are being lobbied to support the plane based on its economic impacts should take a closer look at whether the program actually supports significant numbers of jobs in their district. In many cases it will not.
The last line of defense for the F-35 is that there is allegedly no alternative. But experts like Thomas Christie, the former head of the Pentagon’s independent testing office, have suggested otherwise. They note that upgraded versions of the F-16 and F-18 fighters and the existing A-10 attack aircraft can easily fill the gap until new, more appropriate and mission-specific aircraft can be developed. The Defense Subcommittee of Senate Appropriations should take a step forward this week by cutting F-35 funding for FY 2015. And congressional leaders from both parties should urge the administration to devise a plan to phase out the program altogether.
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.