Fighter jets have always been an expensive line item for the Pentagon, but the cost of the new F-35 fleet sets a startling precedent. As Dominic Tierney explains at The Atlantic, the cost of building and operating the 2,443 planes the military is planning to buy tops out at over $1 trillion: "In other words, we're spending more on this plane than Australia's entire GDP ($924 billion)." You would think for all that money, they would at least fly (as well as maybe do your laundry and give you some tax advice.) But for the moment, the entire fleet is grounded.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports, "the power system that starts and cools the aircraft failed during an engine ground test," and until engineers can figure out why, the pricey planes are simply expensive lawn ornaments. This is the third time that this has happened in less than a year--an electrical problem afflicted the fleet in March and software problems grounded the fleet last October. Responding to this latest development, The Atlantic's Joshua Foust points out that while these problems were cropping up, the Pentagon was scrambling to find a way to cut costs and distracted by a plan to design a second, cheaper engine for the jet.
The latest mechanical failure might prove helpful to those who would like to see more scrutiny directed at the fate of the fleet. (At least, the F-35 pilots don't have anti-freeze in their blood.) The Pentagon is scrambling to figure out how they'll deal with the possible $500 billion in budget cuts as outlined by the new debt deal. According to a Bloomberg report out Thursday, the gnarly new fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters on order from Lockheed Martin "has been in the crosshairs" for a while. And it's not too difficult to see why. The fleet will be the most expensive weapons program in Pentagon history.