The United Kingdom (UK) National Audit Office hosted the 14th Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) conference in September 2018, where SAI delegates from each of the nine partner nations involved (Australia, Canada, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, UK and United States) met to exchange insights from audit work and share knowledge of the most expensive weapons procurement program in the world. The Joint Program Office, which procures the aircraft on behalf of the partners, also attended to provide an up-to-date picture on aircraft progress.
The JSF (or F-35) is commonly referred to as a stealth fighter aircraft that has conventional and short-take-off-vertical landing versions with variants designed to operate from runways and aircraft carriers. It is expected that over 3,000 planes have been, or will be, acquired by the partner nations and other buyers.
The conference focused on two themes: (1) the continuing concern with accountability and transparency challenges associated with a complex multi-country procurement and (2) the anticipated JSF sustainment costs once in service.
Delegates presented on a wide range of recent audit work relating to the F-35, including aircraft development progress, likely economic benefits to partner nations, and the aircraft’s transition into service. The conference also featured presentations from the commander of the air base where UK aircraft are stationed, as well as the head of the UK Ministry of Defense program, which is integrating the F-35 with the UK’s new aircraft carriers.
Participants agreed that, with the aircraft beginning to enter service across the partner nations, there will be an increased focus on JSF issues within various legislative bodies, and there will be much value in sharing lessons from audits undertaken in the partner nations.