Only in February did the military begin using Boeing’s KC-46 tanker, developed to replace the 1950s-era KC-135, on a limited basis. After a decade of development, and 20 years since the Pentagon first launched efforts to field a new tanker, the plane has still not been deemed ready for combat. A leading general recently described it as a “lemon.”Even more well known is Lockheed Martin’s F-35, the stealth fighter whose two decades of development have been plagued by setbacks and mechanical problems. The plane, which costs between $77 million and $100 million apiece, has yet to hit full-rate production. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee called it a “rathole.”
China, the piece notes, setting up an adversary to give urgency to its argument now that Russia has faded in its military primacy, does better.
The problem certainly isn't confined to Air Force procurement discussed in the article either.
The U.S. military's poor track record of development and procurement of new major weapons systems is one reason that the U.S. continues to produce, or keep in service, old systems that are no longer optimal for their missions.
The Air Force is currently even seriously considering bringing back an upgraded version of the F-15, because of the reduced buy of the F-22 that was supposed to replace it, and the exploding costs of both the F-22 and F-35, even though the new F-15 won't be significantly cheaper per unit than the F-35 even at its currently inflated prices.
The U.S. Navy
Further back, the Seawolf submarine, while impressive in capabilities, was a procurement disaster that was terminated early with just twelve built after the price tag grew to $3 billion each (after $3.5 billion for the first one) "making it the most expensive SSN submarine and second most expensive submarine ever, after the French SSBN Triomphant class."
The latest U.S. aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ford, has stumbled along the way as well, although not quite as badly. Construction began in 2005 and it was delivered in late 2019, at a final cost of just over $13 billion, but serious "punch work" remains:
According to a GAO report in mid-2020 the Gerald R. Ford was still reporting significant problems with the operation of its weapons elevators, while a DoD report in early 2021 stated that the ship was still not combat-ready, citing continuing problems with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). Designed to achieve 4,166 aircraft launches between operational mission failures, instead it went 181 launches between failures, "well below the requirement".
The Navy finally gave up trying to build a viable frigate of its own and is now buying a variant of a French design that is already in production.
The U.S. Army
The Army has had trouble developing next generation armored ground vehicles that it hasn't fully replaced since the 1980s.
The U.S. Marines
The Marines latest amphibious armored personnel carrier has taken decades to field and still doesn't meet the original program's targets.
Moreover, just looking at the projects that eventually happened understates the problem because many of the U.S. military's major weapons systems in my lifetime were stillborn, with the programs terminated before any operational units were produced, after great costs overruns, delays, and failures to perform as promised.
Even when programs have made it into production, many, such as the B1-B bomber, the B-2 bomber, and the F-22 fighter, the Seawolf, the Littoral Combat Ship, and the Zumwalt destroyer have each been produced in far smaller numbers than initially anticipated. It looks likely that the F-35 will continue this streak.