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The shine seems to be coming off the F-35 program, with a recent report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) raising concerns about escalating costs and declining aircraft availability.

The report highlights a significant increase in sustainment costs for the F-35 program. From 2018 to 2023, these costs have jumped by a staggering 44%, reaching a whopping $1.58 trillion. This stands in stark contrast to the actual use of the aircraft. The F-35 Joint Program Office reports a 21% reduction in flight hours across the program, indicating less operational utilization.

The report further reveals a troubling trend in overall F-35 availability. None of the F-35 variants have managed to meet the designated availability goals, which measure the percentage of time an aircraft is mission-capable. This shortfall suggests potential maintenance issues or logistical challenges hindering operational readiness.

The GAO’s findings cast a shadow on previous cost projections. In 2019, the organization estimated annual operating costs per aircraft, ranging from $7.8 million to $9.9 million depending on the variant and service branch. These projections may need to be revised in light of the program’s current trajectory.

The GAO report serves as a wake-up call for the F-35 program. Addressing the issues of rising costs and declining availability is crucial. The program needs to identify and rectify the root causes behind these issues to ensure the F-35 lives up to its initial promise of a cost-effective and highly operational fighter jet.

The long-term implications of the GAO report remain to be seen. Whether the program can overcome these challenges and deliver on its intended capabilities is a question that demands close attention.