Welcome to the supersonic version of the tortoise and the hare.
New delays in development and delivery of the next generation of fighter jets has communities all over America worried, but still clinging to hope that even as a tortoise the Joint Strike Fighter will someday cross the finish line.
Beaufort County has a big stake in delivery of the most expensive weapon system the nation has ever seen. Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is to be home to 88 Joint Strike Fighters, called F-35Bs. That assignment will re-up the usefulness of the air station, which is crucial to the local economy.
But delays have gotten so serious, the term "chopping block" is tossed around and a caucus has formed in Congress to protect the program and the 127,000 jobs it promises in 47 states.
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Even as workers in Beaufort County move mountains of dirt and make $352 million in upgrades at the air station to accommodate the F-35B squadrons, bad news is mixed with good news in Washington.
The good news is that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta took the Marine Corps version of the Joint Strike Fighter off what his predecessor Robert Gates called "probation." But Panetta's newly proposed Pentagon budget shows the finish line is still moving in the wrong direction.
"In this budget, we have slowed procurement to complete more testing and allow for development changes before buying in significant quantities," Panetta said.
It will take "a couple more years" to get it into full-rate production due to the need for more testing and more development work, said a deputy to Panetta.
Adding to the worries, the Pentagon is facing $1 trillion in potential cuts.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is a leading voice on defense, says part of the problem is that Defense Department design engineers keep adding unnecessary bells and whistles to the F-35.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, "We are saddened with a program that has little to show for itself after 10 years and $56 billion in taxpayer investment."
Neither senator wants to see the program axed.
It is the only new-generation fighter jet in the pipeline. The average age of current fighting jets is more than 15 years. The Joint Strike Fighter will serve three branches of the service. Eight foreign partners have invested money and placed orders for the plane. For those reasons, we're betting on the tortoise and trusting that it will someday be a hare.