When you’re as big as the JSF, your problems are bound to be magnified. Last week the GAO released its annual Defense Acquisitions report, and it may not come as a surprise that the Joint Strike Fighter was the star of the show. The JSF comprises a whopping 21% of DOD’s $1.58 trillion 2011 Major Defense Acquisition Program (MDAP) portfolio – the other 95 MDAP’s make up the remaining 79%. The JSF has accounted for a major share of the portfolio’s cost growth in RDTE (29%), procurement (57%), and total acquisition cost (52%) in 2011. The GAO report pulls no punches, saying:
The Joint Strike Fighter is driving much of DOD’s poor portfolio performance and it will continue to drive outcomes for the foreseeable future. Among the 96 programs in DOD’s 2011 portfolio, the Joint Strike Fighter is the costliest, the poorest performer in terms of cost growth, and the program with the largest remaining funding needs.
Criticism of this ilk is not new. In February, Frank Kendall; acting Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics; referred to the Pentagon’s decision to prematurely produce the JSF as “acquisition malpractice.” Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces two weeks ago, GAO Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Michael J. Sullivan expanded on this point:
typically what happens on these big programs like…the JSF is this concurrency that you run into, you have concurrent flight testing as you’re trying to ramp up production, the manufacturing processes are never able to get stable because there is so much information coming in from testing and so many engineering changes going on.
The size of the program has even put it in the crosshairs of macro level analysis on what needs to be done to responsibly build down the defense budget. An article that appeared in Foreign Affairs last year, by BFAD’s Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman highlights the JSF:
The F-35 Lightning II program… well exceeds current and foreseeable needs. According to the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy, the military's current fourth-generation fighters -- the F-15, the F-16, and the F-18 -- are superior to Chinese and Russian aircraft, and they are less expensive than the F-35.
It’s no secret that the JSF program has run into more than its fair share of issues throughout the RDTE, acquisition and procurement processes, and when you make up more than a fifth of DOD’s MDAP portfolio, you’re going to get noticed.