Yesterday, 22 April 2021, the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittees on Tactical Air and Land Forces and Readiness held a joint, bruising, two-panel, four-hour open hearing – Update on F-35 Program Accomplishments, Issues, and Risks.

Per the HASC website: The Subcommittees will discuss with witnesses F-35 accomplishments, issues, and risks within the areas of development, production, testing, fielding, and sustainment activities.  Areas of discussion will focus on Initial Operational Testing and Evaluation progress for the Joint Simulation Environment; Technical Refresh – 3/Block 4 Capabilities development, production line cut-in, and fielded jet retrofits; Propulsion system performance and sustainment activities; Mission capability and availability statistics and requirements; Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) transition to the Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN) system; and, F-35 affordability goals and strategies. 

The first hearing panel was focused on industry (Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney) testimony, and the second on USAF F-35 program leadership testimony. The four-hour hearing can be viewed here.

While a lot of facts emerged regarding the programs challenges and cost growth, the largest take-aways at the end of the day appeared to be that:

(1) Past Congressional efforts to add F-35 aircraft to the order book have served to compound the program’s problems; and
(2) We should not expect Congress to add F-35 aircraft to the Pentagon’s budget request in the near-term.

This Report of the Government Accounting Office — F-35 Sustainment: Enhanced Attention to and Oversight of F-35 Affordability Are Needed (GAO-21-505T), formed the basis for the testimony — during both panels – of Diana Maurer, GAO Director, Defense Capabilities and Management.

From that just-released GAO report:

“DOD recognizes the critical need to reduce sustainment costs for the program, and the department has undertaken efforts to do so. However, these efforts have produced limited results. In September 2014 we reported that in 2013 DOD had established a Cost War Room—a collaborative group comprising the services, the F-35 Joint Program Office, and contractor personnel—for the purpose of reducing program sustainment costs. Recently renamed the Affordability War Room, the group helps assess and manage cost reduction initiatives from across the F-35 program, including government and industry. The Affordability War Room has reported identifying $68 billion in life cycle cost avoidance through various initiatives since 2013. However, according to several DOD officials, even if all of the $68 billion in cost avoidance was achieved, that would represent only a fraction of the reductions needed to lower the F-35 program’s sustainment costs (and achieve the services’ affordability constraints).”

GAO’s Diana Maurer