Pentagon

Senators Demand an Explanation After the F-35 Savings Estimate Is Off By $600 Million

The Senate asks the Pentagon's F-35 program to explain its sizable discrepancy in savings estimates.

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Qian Baihua/SIPA ASIA/SIPA/Newscom

The Pentagon's F-35 Joint Program Office is facing scrutiny from Congress after reports of its purported savings were found to be more than a little inflated. The Office had claimed that it would be saving over a $1 billion in parts by buying in bulk, as Bloomberg reports:

Program office officials sought and won congressional approval last year to spend $661 million as a down payment on parts for 207 U.S. aircraft to be purchased in 2019 and 2020. The pitch was that this would save $1.2 billion for the U.S. and allies that buy the [F-35] fighter, split evenly.

The savings were supposedly verified by in-house evaluators at the Department of Defense (DOD). However, DOD's own Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) found the number to be much smaller in a report requested by Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.), who serves as chair on the Senate Armed Services Committee. In fact, the new savings estimate comes out to about $600 million.

After learning of the discrepancy, the Senate Appropriations Committee gave the F-35 program 30 days to explain the hundreds of millions in lost savings.

"The difference between the levels of projected savings is a function of programmatic changes and differing cost model assumptions," argued program spokesperson Joe DellaVedova.

The F-35 program has long been criticized for its massive cost overruns. In 2011, The Atlantic once criticized a plan to purchase 2,443 of the fighter jets at $382 billion a pop (a price tag totalling $1 trillion) as being more expensive than the GDP of Australia.

Since that time, costs for the program have only risen higher and deadlines have only been pushed back.

In a report about the use of illegal Chinese parts in the aircraft's construction, Reason's Nick Gillespie gives some perspective on the pricey project:

Oh yeah, and while we wait for the GAO report to hit the newsstands, suck on this: The United States already accounts for fully 40 percent of the planet's spending on military and defense spending rose by 80 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2001 and 2012. And somewhere in Arizona is a military aircraft graveyard packed with over $35 billion (with a b!) in never-used and nearly-new planes.