The defence industry
The last manned fighter
It is the most expensive military project ever. It is plagued by delays and menaced by budget cuts. Will the F-35 survive?
Jul 14th 2011 | from the print edition
LEON PANETTA is under no illusions about what Barack Obama moved him from the CIA to the Pentagon to do. The wily Mr Panetta, who took over from Robert Gates as defence secretary at the beginning of the month, is everyone’s idea of a safe pair of hands. But his greatest claim to fame (other than presiding over the plan to kill Osama bin Laden) is as the director of the Office of Management and Budget who paved the way to the balanced budget of 1998. Mr Panetta has inherited from his predecessor the outlines of a plan to reduce military spending by $400 billion by 2023. But America’s fiscal crisis (and the lack of any political consensus about how tackle it) makes it almost certain that Mr Panetta will have to cut further and faster than Mr Gates would have wished.
That could be bad news for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive military-industrial programme in history, and its lead contractor, Lockheed Martin. The plane is expected to come into service six years late (in 2016) and wildly over-budget. The Pentagon still plans to buy 2,443 F-35s over the next 25 years, at a cost of $382 billion. But in a parting shot, Mr Gates gave warning that although he did not think the F-35 faced cancellation, “the size of the buy” might have to be cut.