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America Ignores Major Military Infrastructure Problems At Its Peril

With Biden’s weakness inviting aggression from America’s rivals, the infrastructure problems plaguing the U.S. military cannot be ignored.


For generations, the U.S. military has acted as a bulwark against hostile foreign actors threatening the American homeland. But what happens when the military hardware required to project that deterrence doesn’t work, is outdated, or decrepit?

On Wednesday, the House Armed Service Committee held hearings analyzing the 2025 fiscal year budget requests for the Air Force and Navy. Throughout their testimony, military officials and specialists answered questions about current problems facing the force and how to address these issues moving forward.

At one point during the committee’s Air Force hearing, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., probed officials about the F-35. That’s a class of fighter jet produced by Lockheed Martin that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently described as the Pentagon’s “most ambitious and costly weapon system and its most advanced fighter aircraft.”

Gaetz asked Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall III what percentage of F-35s are “fully mission-capable.” For Americans concerned about U.S. military readiness, the answer was less than reassuring.

After consultation with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin, Kendall told Gaetz that only 55 percent of F-35s are deemed operationally available, a figure the secretary said is “not a good number.” This prompted Gaetz to question the veracity of those figures, citing March 2023 testimony from Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Schmidt, the head of the F-35 program, who said that, as of February 2023, the “full mission capable rate” of these jets is less than 30 percent.

Allvin clarified there is a difference between “operational availability” and “mission capable,” but noted he would “not dispute” the accuracy of Schmidt’s testimony. (The term “full mission-capable rate” refers to the “percentage of planes capable of flying all their missions,” according to Bloomberg News).

The percentage Kendall provided matches the F-35 mission-capable rate disclosed in a September 2023 GAO report. That analysis found that the “F-35 fleet mission capable rate—the percentage of time the aircraft can perform one of its tasked missions—was about 55 percent in March 2023, far below program goals.”

Plane Problems

The problems with the F-35 program aren’t new. It has suffered setbacks for years.

Defense News published a report nearly three years ago detailing seven “critical technical deficiencies” identified by the F-35 Joint Program Office. While the total represented a decline from the 11 issues reported by the JPO in January 2021, the remaining problems were “classified as category 1B issues, which represent a ‘critical impact on mission readiness.’” 

The aforementioned September GAO report (partly) blamed the F-35’s poor “mission capable rate” on “challenges with depot and organizational maintenance.” The office noted the program “was behind schedule in establishing depot maintenance activities to conduct repairs,” and, as a result, “component repair times remained slow with over 10,000 waiting to be repaired above desired levels.” It also said the Pentagon’s overreliance on contractors for depot maintenance is hampering repair costs.

“At the same time, organizational-level maintenance has been affected by a number of issues, including a lack of technical data and training,” the report reads.

The F-35s have also had software issues — enough that the Pentagon stopped accepting deliveries of them in July 2023. According to Defense One, program leaders signaled earlier this week they could “resume taking the jets if their balky software upgrade can be released in a stable if limited form.” While the update “could come as early as July [2024] … a combat-ready version of the software won’t arrive for another 12 to 16 months.”

The Government Accountability Office estimated in May 2023 that the F-35 program is “more than a decade behind schedule” and $183 billion over budget. Additional reports detailing the F-35’s maintenance, availability, and cost issues can be found here and here.

Don’t Forget the Navy

As many issues as the F-35 has, it’s hardly the only military craft suffering from routine problems. The U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ship (LCS) is a prime example.

In September 2023, gCaptain, a maritime news outlet, published an extensive report examining how the LCS is becoming “one of the worst boondoggles in the military’s long history of buying overpriced and underperforming weapons systems.” Each LCS “cost more than twice the original estimate,” according to the analysis, which also highlighted the ships’ “mechanical failures” and inability “to carry out the missions envisaged by their champions.”

Despite experiencing these mechanical failures and issues for years, the LCS was regularly pushed by government and industry leaders, who, as gCaptain noted, “repeatedly dismissed or ignored warnings about the ships’ flaws.”

“One Navy secretary and his allies in Congress fought to build more of the ships even as they broke down at sea and their weapons systems failed,” the report reads. “Staunch advocates in the Navy circumvented checks meant to ensure that ships that cost billions can do what they are supposed to do.”

Report author Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica contended that private contractors “who stood to profit” from their deals with the government reportedly “spent millions lobbying Congress, whose members, in turn, fought to build more ships in their home districts than the Navy wanted.” He also noted how the mischievous collaboration between these entities and the Pentagon presents a “vivid illustration” of what former President Dwight D. Eisenhower once referred to as the “military industrial complex.”

“The LCS program offers another clear lesson, one seen in almost every infamous procurement disaster,” he wrote. “Once a massive project gains momentum and defense contractors begin hiring, it is politically easier to throw good money after bad.”

Spend Smarter, Not Harder

While not as large as entitlement spending, military expenditures are a significant portion of the federal budget. Last month, for example, Congress spent $825 billion in U.S. taxpayer money to fund the Pentagon’s 2024 fiscal year spending. That is slightly less than the nearly $850 billion President Biden has requested for the 2025 fiscal year.

As with any problem that rears its head in the Washington, D.C. swamp, the solution from the political and industrial class is to throw money at lobbyists and contractors. At that point, the effectiveness and sustainability of U.S. military craft is less important than the financial perks enjoyed by lobbyists and industry leaders.

With Red China on the rise and Biden’s weakness inviting aggression from America’s biggest adversaries, the infrastructure problems plaguing the U.S. military cannot be ignored. Ensuring efficacy within the force and restoring crippled hardware requires smarter oversight and spending decisions from Congress. Only time will tell if its members get serious enough to do so.

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