The U.S. Air Force is launching a months-long study of its aviation requirements as it seeks to build a new generation of jets to replace the F-35, which was originally designed to replace the F-16 that has been in service since 1974.
The fifth-generation stealth fighter was only introduced in 2006, but a bevy of technical woes and expensive maintenance issues have hindered the program's development. To date, the military has spent $397.8 billion on the development of the program, and would cost $1.182 trillion to run and maintain the jets for the program's original 66-year plan.
The fighter reportedly has a number of regular technical glitches due to its complex onboard software suite and faulty touchscreen interface. It also suffers from production issues.
In addition to this, a structural flaw was discovered in the engines involving the heat coating on its rotor blades. This flaw significantly shortens the engine lifespan and causes planes to be grounded more regularly for repairs, keeping as much as 6% of the fleet from being available if needed.
Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Brown made the announcement on February 17, saying that the F-35 would continue to be used as the "Ferrari" of the air fleet while a cheaper version would be used for more routine missions.
"You don't drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays. This is our ‘high end' fighter, we want to make sure we don't use it all for the low-end fight," he said.
The current F-16 has been used as the workhorse of the Air Force for decades, but even the newest planes are 20 years old. The craft is known for its maneuverability and all-purpose functionality.
Other nations are developing jets with comparable fighting abilities to the F-35, including China's J-20 and Russia's Su-57. Although the F-35 boasts more technical prowess, these other jets are considerably cheaper to produce.