The U.S. Marine Corps has announced that its version of the controversial F-35 joint strike fighter is ready for use. The aircraft was developed in part in Connecticut and has been hailed by members of Connecticut’s delegation, some of whom have taken many thousands of dollars in campaign cash from the plane’s developers.
“Today marks a new chapter for Connecticut aviation,” U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said in a release last week. “The United States Marine Corps announced the F-35B is combat ready — a testament to the tireless work and dedication of the men and women at Pratt & Whitney. Their tremendous skill has truly produced one of the finest engines in the world. I commend them and the entire F-35 team for their commitment to both ensuring the United States maintains our air superiority and Connecticut remains on the forefront of innovation.”
The F-35 program, however, has not been without controversy. Opponents have cited ongoing problems in development that have resulted in cost overruns and delays, not to mention the overall cost of procurement.
“The Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons system in history, and we must learn the lessons of past failures to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and American aviators can safely and effectively perform their missions,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We owe them nothing less.”
Larson, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and Sen. Christopher Murphy, then a representative from Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District, were among the members of a Congressional Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Caucus convened in 2011 by Rep. Kay Granger, R-TX, and Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who said then that “the F-35 program has reached a critical stage in its development as the most advanced multi-role fighter in the world.”
A 2011 report by OpenSecrets.org showed that the primary F-35 contractors, including Pratt & Whitney parent company United Technologies, helped fund the re-election campaigns of caucus members, contributing $326,400 to members of the JSF Caucus in a single year.
During the 2014 election cycle, Rep. Elizabeth Esty, Larson, and Courtney were among the top recipients of campaign cash from United Technologies. Larson received $26,050 from United Technologies, the second-most during the 2014 campaign season. Esty was number three on that list, pulling in $11,750 from the company; Courtney was number five, garnering $11,500.
In April, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the program saying that “cost and affordability challenges for the F-35 persist.”
According to that report, “To execute its current procurement plan, the F-35 program will need to request and obtain, on average, $12.4 billion annually in acquisition funds for more than two decades.”
“With estimated acquisition costs of nearly $400 billion, the F-35 Lightning II — also known as the Joint Strike Fighter — is DOD’s most costly and ambitious acquisition program,” the GAO wrote.
When Congress was considering the military appropriations request earlier this year, U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Joseph F. Dunford Jr. — president Barack Obama’s nominee to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — said the F-35 “will replace 3 aircraft, all of which are 20 years old,” calling the new fighter “a fundamentally different capability, a transformational capability.”
In June, Murphy voted in favor of that defense authorization request because, he said in June, “it will directly protect and grow Connecticut’s defense manufacturing industry and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports across our state.
“It provides more Blackhawk helicopters, F-135 engines, and research and development of new submarines critical to manufacturing in towns like Groton, Middletown, and Stratford,” Murphy said.
Dunford said the F-35 will be a significant boon for the military.
“The F-35B’s ability to conduct operations from expeditionary airstrips or sea-based carriers provides our nation with its first 5th generation strike fighter, which will transform the way we fight and win,” Dunford said.
Jordan Fenster can be reached by or @JordanFenster on Twitter.