The Pentagon’s new F-35 fighter didn’t make it to the Farnborough International Airshow this week, thanks to a last-minute problem with its Pratt & Whitney engine. The engine problem looks to be a modest one — all the hundred-odd other engines being used in the fighter program proved to be in fine shape on inspection — but that hasn’t prevented hand-wringing about this latest setback in the “troubled” F-35 effort. The truth of the matter is that both the airframe and the engine are doing fine, and senior Pentagon officials have closed ranks in defending the F-35 program. In the case of Pratt & Whitney’s engine, they see a 98% availability rate and continuously declining costs on a system that greatly outperforms any alternative. The friction-related problem that cropped up on June 23 is typical of what is found in the risk-reduction phase of military development programs; it should not distract Washington from the fact that the program is meeting all of its performance goals, and progressing steadily. Once a long-anticipated production ramp-up occurs, prices will fall much further than the 45% reduction in unit cost already achieved. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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