Days after a $100 million F-35B crashed in rural South Carolina, a government watchdog report released Thursday highlights ongoing maintenance delays showing F-35 fighter jets are only “mission capable” 55% of the time.
“If the aircraft can only perform 55% of the time and the goal is 85 to 90% of the time, taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth,” said Diana Maurer, who authored the report for the Government Accountability Office.
The F-35 program, led by military contractor Lockheed Martin, is one of the Pentagon’s most expensive, costing taxpayers a total of $1.7 trillion over its lifespan.
Much of the program’s expense — $1.3 trillion — is spent on the cost of maintaining and operating the fighter jets, according to the new GAO report.
Maurer says the fighter jet’s overall sustainment “rests entirely on Lockheed Martin and the sub-contractors it hires.” While this is not unique to the F-35, the GAO found that this contractor-led approach can cause delays.
For example, the report notes that the GAO spoke to military maintenance staff at three locations who said they were not allowed to look up spare part numbers for the F-35 because the proprietary database was controlled by Lockheed, the prime contractor. “Not having ready access to part numbers hinders the repair of the aircraft because it delays the ordering and receipt of needed parts,” the report cited.
Maintenance on components for the F-35 fighter jets is behind, leaving more than 10,000 components currently in the queue waiting to be repaired, according to the report.
The F-35 is used by the Air Force, Marines and the Navy. Previous maintenance concerns have led to a push for the Pentagon to take over management of F-35 maintenance but that shift is not scheduled to occur until late 2027, according to the report.
The GAO review was mandated by Congress as part of last year’s defense bill after ongoing maintenance challenges were identified.
The GAO made seven recommendations to address maintenance delays and the Pentagon concurred with all of them, according to the report.
Lockheed Martin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.