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Risky Business

June 29, 2009—The Pentagon has embarked on "extremely risky" business in its concurrent development and production plan for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, according to the Government Accountability Office. The GAO notes in recent Congressional testimony that DOD had completed only about two percent of the new fighter's development flight testing as of late fall 2008 and does not plan to have a fully integrated, mission-capable aircraft enter flight testing until 2012, at which time it would have procured 183 production aircraft. Under current plans, DOD would buy 273 airframes before it completes development flight testing. DOD is relying on lab, flying test bed, and subject-matter analysis to verify the aircraft's capabilities vs. actual flight testing—83 percent vs. 17 percent as shown in the graph—but the Congressional watchdog agency notes that although simulation labs have improved greatly, "their ability to substitute for flight testing has not yet been demonstrated." And, GAO states, "The sheer complexity of the JSF program—with 22.9 million lines of software code, three variants, and multi-mission development—suggests the aircraft will encounter many unforeseen problems during flight testing requiring additional time in the schedule for rework." GAO also noted that development costs are still going up and the end date for development extended. As a result, lawmakers have cast a wary eye at DOD plans to try to accelerate JSF production to fill the US military's approaching fighter gap.

Source: "Joint Strike Fighter: Strong Risk Management Essential as Program Enters Most Challenging Phase," testimony by Michael Sullivan, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, The Government Accountability Office, May 20, 2009.