Defense Secretary Ash Carter is in Israel Monday, waiting to usher in the first much touted stealth F-35 fighters expected to – as Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman put it – “present another component in maintaining air superiority in our region.”
With its estimated cost at close to $400 billion, the new next-gen plane is by far the US’ most expensive weapons system, and Israel is included in a very small group of countries to receive it. and expressed gratitude to Carter, who was welcomed with a military honor guard at a Tel Aviv army base.
One man who is decidedly unhappy with these costs is President-Elect Donald Trump, who told Fox News on Sunday, “Look at the F-35 program with the money, the hundreds of billions of dollars.” Trump continued, “It’s out of control. And the people that are making these deals for the government, they should never be allowed to go to work for these companies. You know, they make a deal like that and two or three years later, you see them working for these companies that made the deal.”
File that one with Trump’s complaints about the excessive costs of Air Force One, complaints that have already hit its maker, Boeing, in the stock markets.
Perhaps more disturbing that its costs – which, presumably, the next president will renegotiate – are the rumors that the F-35 is not meeting its high praise and great expectations. Michael Gilmore, DoD’s chief tester, has been arguing that Pentagon officials have been misleading the public with their assessment of the progress of the F-35, Bloomberg reported.
“If not changed, the existing responses would at best be considered misleading and at worst, prevarications,” Gilmore, director of operational test and evaluation, wrote Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Az).
Gilmore has been challenging several key statements from DoD regarding the F-35. For instance, he does not believe the F-35’s development phase will be completed in early 2018, which Defense is claiming. He says Defense is spreading false information when it says all weapons systems’ testing will start in mid-2018 and be completed in 2019. Gilmore thinks the testing won’t be finished before well into 2020.
Gilmore says it is “highly unlikely” the F-35s delivered in fiscal 2018 will have full combat capability, due to delays in testing the plane’s software and correcting “276 pending deficiencies.”
There’s an Israeli angle to these predictions of delayed delivery: during last month’s test flights, symbols on the Elbit helmet display used by pilots in aim air-to-ground attacks were “unusable and unsafe to complete the planned testing.”
These issues of cost and delays didn’t seem to bother Col. Asaf, the deputy commander of Israel’s Nevatim Air Force base in the Negev, who told ABC News, “We are going to be very strong for a long time, having these airplanes. And Israel has to be strong in this region for its existence. It’s a message for everybody that Israel will keep on holding the high-end technology in this area.”
“This specific airplane is going to be a very good one for the next decades,” Col. Asaf said added.