The F-35 fighter plane makes prime time

1280px-160308-M-BL734-841_(25076029673) c.jpg

An F-35B Lightning II performs a vertical landing aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. (Flickr/U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Jonah Lovy)

A few weeks ago the CBS drama "Madam Secretary," about a fictional U.S. secretary of state, a woman, Elizabeth McCord, presented a military, diplomatic and commercial crisis about a fictional fighter plane, the so-called F-40. The manufacturer had a cost overrun and was demanding that the U.S. buy 20 more planes. The Pentagon was proposing the planes be given to Taiwan. The total cost would run, as best I remember, about $40 billion.

And to further complicate things, Madam Secretary's husband, a retired fighter pilot, had flown the plane and called it a "brick," sluggish, but with lots of bells and whistles like stealth radar. 

The show caught my attention because for years I've been tracking the F-35 fighter plane. According to POGO, the Project on Government Oversight, the F-35 was to be fully functional and in the air by 2008 at a cost of $40 or $50 million per plane. But to save money, the competing manufacturers, Lockheed and Boeing, didn't build a prototype. And flaws have plagued the plane.

Cost-overrun fails to capture the magnitude of the cost increase, currently estimated at $150 million per plane – that is if we actually build 2,500 of them. Currently, congressional appropriations committees recommend producing 93 planes in FY19; Lockheed has delivered more than 355 planes, as of mid-January.

The POGO article cited above says the planes are not combat-ready, based on a report by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James who certified in 2016 that the planes would be combat-ready by 2018. Besides that, a plane crashed in October; the Pentagon grounded them while investigating the cause.

There's a lot of criticism of the F-35. And "Madam Secretary" attempted to catch and explain the criticisms. Indeed, I would say the show took sides, with the secretary of state declaring the plane to be a boondoggle. In the end, spoiler alert, Madam Secretary loses to a cabal of the president, defense secretary and chief of staff, men who cannot imagine actually rejecting a weapons system. It's pretty shocking television, naming one of the Pentagon's dirty secrets.

Enter your email address to receive free newsletters from NCR.


Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here

Advertisement