Already, the agency said in the draft obtained by Bloomberg News, the Defense Department “must stretch its resources to meet the needs of continued system development and production while at the same time sustain the more than 250 aircraft it has already fielded.”
Upkeep of the F-35 fleet will become more challenging as the Pentagon prepares for what the manager of the program has called a “tsunami” of new production toward an eventual planned U.S. fleet of 2,456 planes plus more than 700 additional planes to be sold to allies.
The F-35 program office and Lockheed have identified steps to increase parts availability “to prevent these challenges from worsening” as aircraft numbers increase, the GAO said, but Pentagon documentation indicates “the program’s ability to speed up this time line is uncertain.”
The GAO also disclosed that the F-35B — the Marine Corps version of the fighter that’s scheduled to begin ship deployments next year — won’t have required maintenance and repair capabilities at sea and “will likely experience degraded readiness.”
This is akin to buying an exotic car you can barely afford, without also budgeting for insurance, repairs, and tuneups.