Why A McCain-Led Armed Services Committee Could Be Bad News For The F-35

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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Republicans’ new majority in the Senate could mean a tough term of congressional oversight for some of the Pentagon’s runaway defense contractors, as armed services chair-to-be John McCain gets the oomph to take aim at grossly over-budget programs like the F-35.

The Arizona senator and former veteran Navy pilot has been a frequent critic of Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter program, which is expected to cost $1 trillion over the fleet’s 50-plus year lifespan, and is already more than 70 percent over-budget at an increase of up to $161 million per-plane instead of the estimated $81 million.

McCain often targets the fifth-generation multi-role fighter in his heated floor speeches against the military-industrial complex.

Last year McCain described the program, which has cost taxpayers almost $400 billion so far, as “one of the great national scandals,” and earlier this summer expressed concerns over the government-industry “cronyism” involved in its development, which has spread production and assembly of the plane’s crucial parts to jobs across almost all 50 states, virtually guaranteeing its support in Congress no matter how far over-budget it goes. (RELATED: Entire F-35 Fleet Quietly Grounded Ahead Of July 4 Holiday)

“This is, of course, totally unacceptable. It is the kind of cronyism that should make us all vigilant against, as President Eisenhower warned us over 50 years ago, the military-industrial complex,” McCain said on the Senate floor in June according to Reuters.

After an announcement about fixes to the F-35 engine in response to a runway fire earlier this summer, Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan told reporters last week McCain was “very, very discerning and critical” in his oversight of the program’s spending. (RELATED: Three Years And Several Fixes Later, The F-35 FINALLY Lands On An Aircraft Carrier)

“I would imagine that I’m going to see Senator McCain more than I have been,” Bogdan said about the possibility of Republicans gaining the majority in the Senate, Reuters reports.

As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain will have significant influence over legislation surrounding the Pentagon’s budget, and play a leading role in writing the annual defense authorization bill. Though he’s expected to be hawkish in regard to over-budget programs like the F-35, Littoral Combat Ship, a new presidential helicopter by Sikorsky Aircraft and an unmanned carrier-based drone for the Navy, the Arizona senator is still in favor of rolling back defense sequestration cuts.

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