12/28/2011 09:22 am ET Updated Feb 27, 2012

The F-35, $400 Billion Boondoggle: A Christmas Present

On December 7th, I reported that Air Force officials recommended that F-35 testing "should begin [pilot] training at Eglin AFB [Air Force Base] as soon as an event-driven process results in a military flight release." Senator McCain went on the Senate floor and suggested that "it's wise to sort of temper production for a while here..." DOD officials were taking a further look and they wanted to make sure that everything was working before training started and on the Friday before Christmas, DOD officials decided the F-35 is still not ready for flight training.

You may note that the decision was announced on the Friday before Christmas when newspaper reading and TV broadcasts get their smallest audiences. That's probably not a coincidence, because not everything was working and Lockheed Martin, the F-35 contractor, has admitted it.

According to InsideDefense, a key system "known as ALIS [version 1.0.3], is behind schedule and has been identified as senior Defense Department officials as a moderate concurrency risk on the F-35." (The entire piece is available here; it runs sixteen paragraphs, and the news is not good.)

ALIS is intended to be an all-purpose solution, meeting many of the needs of the very advanced system that forms the backbone of the F-35. According to InsideDefense, Lockheed Martin describes ALIS as "designed to be a single, overarching system that performs operations, maintenance, prognostics, training and technical data logistical functions. [But] the current legacy maintenance system is not able to integrate all those tasks." The company had predicted that the version would be complete by the end of November, and according to the Air Education and Training Command (AETC), "At this time it is unknown when [ALIS] 1.0.3 will be implemented."

The AETC officials "are still waiting for an incremental upgrade to ALIS 1.0.2... which will support flight operations, albeit with more limited capacity than the 1.0.3." Until that is done, there is no chance that F-35 training can begin.

According to InsideDefense, there were other shortcomings. "Brig. Gen. David Peterson said that a few issues, primarily logistical support questions, 'require more attention before Eglin AFB can begin flight training.'" (Training was original scheduled to begin in September.)

A November report on the F-35 was, according to InsideDefense, "commissioned by acting DOD Acquisition Executive, Frank Kendall, and written by five senior officials" identifies "ALIS as a moderate concurrency risk on the JSF [the F-35]." The report points out several of the deficiencies and said that it considered "ALIS development only a moderate risk, but it represented a more substantial concurrency risk when considered alongside other areas of moderate concern -- development of the F-35's software, weight management, lighting protection and the effects of extreme temperatures."

Friday's story was not exactly a Merry Christmas present to Lockheed Martin, the DOD or the Joint Forces that plan to use the airplane. InsideDefense headlines its piece as "Immaturity On ALIS Delaying F-35 Training, Called A 'Moderate' Risk." That's a headline that fails to induce much confidence.

We all know that people tend not to pay much attention to news over the Christmas/New Year's break, and if you've got bad news, that's the best time to bury it. Therefore, I'd like to draw attention to the InsideDefense piece and in the hope that some HuffPost readers will find it and look into it themselves.

With Defense budget cuts being criticized by Republicans, and Democrats striving to do as little damage as possible when they make the cuts, the F-35 suggests itself as a program worth considering.