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Letter to Issa, Cummings and Chaffetz: F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II

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Congressman John Tierney, Ranking Member of the National Security, Homeland Defense, and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, sent a letter today to House Oversight and Government Reform Leaders to urge comprehensive oversight of the Defense Department's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II, the largest weapons procurement program in history. Citing substantial cost overruns, repeated scheduling delays and a flawed acquisitions process which have plagued the nearly $400 billion JSF program, Congressman Tierney recommended that a series of hearings be held on the program and its role in the discussions around our country's long-term fiscal health.

The entire text of the letter sent by Congressman Tierney this afternoon follows and can be found here.

December 21, 2012

The Honorable Darrell E. Issa

Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings

Ranking Member, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

The Honorable Jason E. Chaffetz

Chairman, Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations

Dear Chairman Issa, Ranking Member Cummings and Chairman Chaffetz:

As the Committee prepares its oversight plan for the 113th Congress as required under House Rule X(2)(d)(2), I am writing to request that the Committee consider comprehensive oversight of the Defense Department's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II, the largest weapons procurement program in history. Substantial cost overruns, repeated scheduling delays and a flawed acquisitions process have plagued the nearly $400 billion JSF program and raise questions about its future sustainability. Given the need for serious, yet balanced budget cuts to improve the long-term fiscal health of the U.S., I recommend that a series of hearings be held on the program's escalating costs, the military's continuing need for the aircraft in light of evolving global threats, and the importance of adequate testing to the acquisition process.

A recent New York Times article chronicled the JSF program's history of problems. Production of the JSF aircraft occurred before even basic flight tests were completed, a process that the Department's current acquisition chief described as "acquisition malpractice." This concurrent process of development and production has resulted in needing to retrofit the early production aircraft to fix problems that were later identified, creating billions in additional costs for the 41 aircraft already delivered. Moreover, despite 11 years of development, the program continues to have significant technical problems, such as poorly performing helmet displays and ineffective arresting cables on the aircraft carrier variant. In addition, according to GAO, the program faces many future challenges, including the need to test and secure 24 million lines of programming critical to the aircraft's operation. GAO has described JSF software development as "one of the largest and most complex projects in [Department] history."

Full-rate production of the JSF program has been delayed by six years and per-unit costs have nearly doubled from $69 million to $137 million. Given the complexity of the JSF program, the substantial amount of testing yet to be completed, and the growing risk that international partners will reduce their planned purchases, concerns remain about future delays and further increases in costs.

Given these troubling facts, the JSF program raises a number of important questions that should be investigated by the Committee. For instance, the Committee should examine whether changes may be needed to existing acquisition laws to ensure that adequate testing is completed before the U.S. government makes costly acquisitions. In addition, the Committee should examine whether alternative platforms, such as the F-16 and F/A-18, and even unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), could serve as a long-term substitute for the JSF. Moreover, in light of the Department's recent rebalancing of priorities to the Asia-Pacific region, the Committee should examine whether current plans to procure more than 2,400 JSF aircraft will adequately meet future military needs. Last, the Committee should examine the reasonableness and affordability of sustaining the JSF program, which will cost more than $1 trillion over the entire life cycle.

As you know, our Committee has a long history of conducting oversight of the Department's acquisition of this and other programs, such as the F-22 and Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) programs. Given the history of problems with the JSF program as well as the challenges posed by our country's mounting debt, I strongly urge the Committee to revisit this important topic as soon as practicable in the 113th Congress. Comprehensive and sustained oversight of this $1.5 trillion dollar program is imperative to adequately safeguard taxpayer dollars.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

John Tierney

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations


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