Back in the early days of the F-35 program, the powers that be were full of excitement and optimism as they looked toward the future.  The plane they were developing would create jobs in nearly every state in the U.S., it would be the most advanced airframe ever to take to the skies, and it would out-stealth, out-fight, and out-bomb anything the world could throw at it.

Of course, in the years since, much of that optimism has fallen by the wayside, as its broad manufacturing footprint has ensured enough political support (and fear of lost jobs) to squash any attempt at reigning in the exorbitant costs associated with the program as it grew more and more bloated and behind schedule.  Depending on who you ask, the F-35 is either the most capable aircraft any nation’s military has ever fielded… or it’s a flying hunk of junk that can’t win in a dogfight against fighters a generation behind it.  The truth, of course, is likely somewhere in between, but there can be no debate about the massive, and still growing, cost of the program.

Back in those early and optimistic days, the U.S. government made a decision intended to help curb those costs: they told Lockheed Martin to begin production of the F-35s before they’d finished testing them.  This procurement model, called “concurrency,” allows the manufacturing base to get a head start on production while Lockheed worked the kinks out of the various iterations of the Joint Strike Fighter to be delivered to the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.  The plan, at the time, was to go back and simply update the first few batches of fighters after the designers identified any flaws that may arise along the way.

And boy were there some flaws – some 213 of them to date, including hardware and software changes necessary to bring those early F-35s up to the current standard.  The cost of updating those early air frames has continued to rise despite inconsistent defense funding in recent years, of course, to the point where literally hundreds of F-35s that were already bought and paid for, will likely never be updated into combat-capable aircraft, or at least, won’t be any time soon.