One $100 million Air Force plane leaks oil, another bursts into flame
Troubles never seem to end for the F-35 Strike Fighter. Not yet fully operational, the nuclear-capable fighter-bomber recently had different test versions either leak oil in flight or burst into flames on takeoff.
The F-35 is the world’s most expensive weapons system – $400 billion and counting. The estimated lifetime cost of this military-industrial project is $1.5 trillion. The F-35 is already close to a decade behind schedule and its cost is already more than twice the original estimate. The Pentagon has lowered its performance specs and it’s still years from being operational.
According to Motley Fool, the estimated additional cost to operate and maintain the F-35 for 55 years is another $1.1 trillion. At more than $2 trillion, the F-35 is projected to cost more than half the entire Iraq War, so far.
On June 22, at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, an F-35A was taking off on a routine training flight when part of the engine went through the fuselage and the tail of the plane burst into flame. The pilot aborted the takeoff and escaped from the cockpit. A ground crew extinguished the fire with foam. There were no injuries, but $100 million the plane was possibly destroyed, according to officials.
All 26 F-35s at Eglin were grounded after the fire, while the Air Force tried to figure out why the plane ignited. Air Force spokesperson Lt. Hope Cronin called the fire “significant,” but the cause is yet unknown. F-35s at other bases continued to fly until June 27, when the Air Force grounded all F-35s around the country and continued to seek the cause of the fire.
Earlier this month, on June 13, the entire F-35 fleet (more then 100 planes at this point) was grounded because an F-35 was leaking oil in flight. The Air Force, the Marines, and the Navy each has a variation of the F-35 that range in estimated cost from $98 million (Air Force) to $104 million (Marines) to $124 million (Navy). According to Lockheed Martin, the lead contractor on the F-35, the plane costs $98 million without the engine.
So far, this story has been managed by the Air Force and, to a lesser extent, Lockheed Martin. Early reporting came from military-industrial-friendly outlets such as the U.S. Naval Institute News or Defense News. According to the former, “This is the first incident this severe for the JSF [F-35] during the life of the tri-service program.”
When the L.A. Times told the story, the paper used only official information. The Motley Fool, referring to corporate hopes that F-35 sales would “catch fire,” took a more irreverent view with this headline:
Lockheed Martin Corporation’s F-35 Fighter Jet Catches Fire — in a Bad Way
Lockheed Martin hopes to sell more than 5,000 F-35s to the U.S. and other governments. In the past two years, several of those other governments have expressed concern about the plane’s value, with some governments cutting back or cancelling orders. As Motley Fool analyzed it: