Cascading F-35 testing delays could cost the Department of Defense (DOD) over a billion dollars more than currently budgeted to complete development of the F-35 baseline program. Because of problems with the mission systems software, known as Block 3F, program officials optimistically estimate that the program will need an additional 5 months to complete developmental testing. According to best practices, credible estimates are rooted in historical data. The program’s projections are based on anticipated test point achievements and not historical data. GAO’s analysis—based on historical F-35 flight test data—indicates that developmental testing could take an additional 12 months. These delays could affect the start of the F-35’sinitial operational test and evaluation, postpone the Navy’s initial operational capability, and delay the program’s full rate production decision, currently planned for April 2019.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is DOD’s most expensive and ambitious acquisition program. Acquisition costs alone are estimated at nearly $400 billion, and beginning in 2022, DOD expects to spend more than $14 billion a year on average for a decade.
Program officials estimate that a delay of 5 months will contribute to a total increase of $532 million to complete development. The longer delay estimated by GAO will likely contribute to an increase of more than $1.7 billion, approximately $1.3 billion of which will be needed in fiscal year 2018.
According to the GAO, the F35 program would have to complete an average of 384 mission system test points a month to meet the October 2017 completion date. This is five times the current rate. The GAO determined this is something the F-35 program is unlikely to accomplish. This assumes that testing did not find more problems which would require more testing. Almost 2000 new tests and problems were uncovered in 2016.
Every new month of delay will add $141 million for testing.