John McCain: F-35 Program ‘A Scandal And A Tragedy’ [Video]

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the Republican party’s 2008 presidential nominee, referred to the program of development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — a fifth-generation military stealth jet — as “both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule, and performance,” according to CNN. He also stated that the F-35 “scandal” is the “largest and most expensive acquisition program in the Department of Defense’s history.”

McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is often consulted as an authority on military matters due to his status as a decorated war veteran and former prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam. McCain’s comments were made while he was chairing a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the F-35 development program.

“[…] it’s a textbook example of why this Committee has placed such a high priority on reforming the broken defense acquisition system.”

The F-35 “scandal” to which John McCain refers is the current price tag of $400 billion, twice the original estimate, and a lifetime cost of $1.45 trillion for very little result — a total of 2,457 planes. McCain reminded his Senate colleagues that the program initially promised to yield 1,013 F-35 stealth fighter jets by the end of the 2015-2016 fiscal year, yet it only delivered 179.

John McCain believes that the eventual capabilities of the F-35 stealth jet are absolutely crucial to our defense strategies overseas. However, as a fiscal conservative, he is appalled by the cost overruns of the F-35’s development program, which he called “disgraceful.” McCain also discussed the severe delays with the program, another part to the “scandal” which he says will not see the final jet completed and ready for action until 2040, and worried that the technological advancements in both China and Russia are outpacing the United States.

The F-35 program’s executive officer, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the failures and the exorbitant cost of the program. He stated that it is “sometimes” moving more slowly than he would like. Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall also testified in front of the committee that they are making “solid progress” with the maligned program.

“[I am] confident the current risks and issues we face can be resolved and we’ll be able to overcome future problems and deliver the F-35’s full combat capability.”

Kendall insisted, “The F-35 is no longer a program that keeps me up at night,” while the Pentagon’s director of operational testing and evaluation, Michael Gilmore, admitted to John McCain’s Senate committee that their optimism at the start of the project was somewhat foolhardy.

“The F-35 is an extreme example of optimistic, if not ridiculous assumptions, about how a program would play out.”

John McCain’s committee did, however, receive a confirmation from Bogdan that a variant of the F-35 that is intended for use by the United States Air Force is also delayed, by an additional 60 days. He said that this aircraft will not reach its minimum usefully deployable form until October 2016. The Marines already have a version of the F-35 ready to go, and the Navy is estimated to have a version of the F-35 ready for deployment in 2018. The budget request for the 2016-2017 fiscal year includes $8.3 billion to purchase 63 F-35 aircraft.

The F-35 “scandal” hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for the stealth jet among the servicemen who will be flying them. Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Nev Kingdon told the British independent military news outlet Forces TV that flying the F-35 is “brilliant.” The aircraft is expected to make its first appearance in airshows in the United Kingdom in the summer of 2016. Forces TV describes the F-35, which has a single seat, as “extremely versatile, suited for air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strikes, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.” It will also allow pilots to immediately share data with each other and with their commanders.

McCain ended the oversight hearing by praising the F-35 program’s current leadership.

“The takeaway from this is that we are making progress, that we have challenges that lie ahead, but there has been some significant improvements as opposed to some years ago.”

John McCain served in the United States Navy as a naval aviator during the Vietnam War, and his plane was shot down in 1967, resulting in his capture and torture. He remained a POW until 1973. He is the senior senator from Arizona and has served in the Senate since 1987, when he took over Barry Goldwater’s senate seat. The 2008 GOP nominee also ran for president in 2000, losing the Republican primary to then-Texas Governor George W. Bush.

[Image courtesy of Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]