The U.S. military’s next generation fighter plane will cost taxpayers an estimated $1.4 trillion and Pentagon officials still can’t say for certain that the plane will ever become a reality.
The plane, known as the F-35 II Lightning or the Joint Strike Fighter, was grounded last month amid safety concerns after one caught fire prior to takeoff at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
There are currently more than 100 F-35s built, conducting test flights around the country.
"We are grateful that Monday's incident was contained, and that procedures were followed that prevented additional damage or injury,” Kyra P. Hawn, a spokeswoman for the military’s Joint Program Office, told the Los Angeles Times.
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Planning for the high-tech plane began more than a decade ago. It was conceived as a multipurpose aircraft that could be used by all branches of the military. But critics have long argued that the money is being spent on the fighter despite any proof that the concept will work or the plane can do what supporters claim it will do.
Some call the process a “buy first, fly later” approach to development and the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, has described it as “acquisition malpractice,” according to Roll Call.
The military is currently conducting inspections on the planes to determine the cause of the fire in plane’s engine. A report from the Australian Broadcasting Company earlier this week said military officials promised the inspections would be completed soon, but gave no specific date.
Australia has agreed to buy 58 F-35s from the U.S. but that contract could be in jeopardy depending on the results of the inspections.
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The problem with the engine further calls into question the viability of the program which has been plagued with cost overruns and is reported to be about seven years behind schedule.
Think Progress recently put the cost of the program in perspective when it reported that the money slated for the overall project could buy a $664,000 home for every homeless person in the U.S. The article cited statistics from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to bolster its claim.
But the project has powerful supporters, including 49 members of Congress who make up the Congressional Joint Strike Fighter Caucus. They claim efforts to build the plane create jobs in their districts and don’t want the project stopped or scaled back.
The Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee is set to discuss the budget for fiscal year 2015 next week. It is unclear if the plane’s future will be discussed in light of the recent grounding.