More bad news for the Pentagon’s next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons program in Defense Department history — and arguably the most important one in the Pentagon today. The Air Force has confirmed what observers long expected: that the land-based F-35A model probably won’t be ready for combat until 2018, two years later than previously scheduled.
The single-engine stealth fighter, built by Lockheed Martin, has been beset by parts failures, design changes and a 64-percent increase in overall cost since development began in 2001. While testing has gone better lately, the nearly $400-billion program still needs to complete thousands more test flights before the first batch of regular pilots can even begin training.
The effects of the delay are cascading throughout the world’s biggest and most powerful Air Force. To keep up its strength while awaiting the F-35, the Air Force is having to keep its 1980s- and 1990s-vintage F-15s and F-16s far longer than anyone ever imagined when those planes rolled off the production line.