A planned F-35 upgrade should be considered a separate acquisition program to improve oversight, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Thursday. The GAO recommended Congress direct the Pentagon to breakout the follow-on modernization, or Block 4, because it is expected to need nearly $3 billion in funding over the next six years, an amount that would qualify it as a major acquisition program, according to the report. If DOD continues to handle the configuration as part of the existing baseline, the report notes, the block will not be subject to certain statutory and regulatory oversight requirements, and transparency will be limited. However, the F-35 joint program office said in statement that separating Block 4 “would generate an unnecessary administrative burden and create challenges in maintaining a partnered environment outside of the existing program charter.” The office will work with Congress to establish reporting requirements on the upgraded configuration’s cost, schedule, and performance as necessary, according to the statement.
Rumored cuts to the F-35 from the fiscal 2025 defense budget—six from Air Force plans—would not be offset by recent Foreign Military Sales, and will disrupt ongoing Lot 19 negotiations, Pentagon and industry sources said.