The delivery of the RAF’s new US-built F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in July 2021 was a rare moment of celebration in a difficult project.
The “fifth generation” fighter jet is the world’s most expensive weapon system, although costs eventually stabilized at a staggering $406 billion.
Manufacturer Lockheed-Martin agreed to cap costs after US President Donald Trump criticized the project and even tweeted his support for a competing plane.
The UK is currently embarking on a £9.1 billion program to buy 48 of the F-35s from American aviation giant Lockheed Martin by 2025.
One of the first four F-35B Lightning II aircraft arrives at RAF Marham in Norfolk on 6 June 2018
America has lured its NATO and other allies into sharing the cost of the plane by offering input to manufacture it, and each plane is made up of 15 per cent parts from British companies, while some of the jets are made in Italy.
But the planes were plagued by a series of problems that sent costs skyrocketing.
There is concern that deficiencies in the technical systems underlying the new generation of fighter jets will cause them to malfunction.
The actual cost of the UK aircraft delivered this year is estimated at over £150m each to cover ‘extras’ such as software upgrades and spare parts.
There are also concerns that the aircraft’s software system is vulnerable to cyberattacks and cannot be independently tested by the UK.
Weak broadband on the Royal Navy’s main aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is also hampering the jet’s capabilities.
The problems will not be solved by the department responsible for the computer networks essential to the aircraft’s operation having to find £400million in savings this year.
Reports of costs and other issues prompted the Defense Select Committee to launch an investigation into the project.
She accused the Ministry of Defense of leaving Parliament and the public in the dark about the costs.
The Ministry of Defense has so far refused to give the UK the estimated cost of purchasing the F-35, apart from referring to a National Audit Office, which used the £9.1 billion figure.
MPs said “it is simply unacceptable that the Defense Department refuses to disclose to Parliament and the public its estimates of the total cost of the program.”
Although the F-35’s cost was the focus of attention, there were also embarrassing reports of operational shortcomings from the United States.
In a mock air battle in 2015, the state-of-the-art aircraft was defeated by an older generation F-16, a plane from the 1970s.
In 2020, Pentagon tests found 276 different flaws in the jet’s combat system.
These included the excessively oscillating 25mm gun and problems with the plane’s “virtual reality” helmet
Overheating, premature wear of components in the vertical stabilizers and susceptibility to fire were also identified as problems.
The US Air Force temporarily grounded dozens of its F-35 stealth fighters while investigating an oxygen supply issue.
The Marine Corps, which also operates the same F-35B model Britain bought, was forced to ground its planes after bugs were discovered in the computer system.