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F-35 joint strike fighter started with recipe for trouble

FORT WORTH, Texas -- As Pentagon officials worked on the 2012 defense budget proposal late last year, they were forced, yet again, to devote several billion dollars more to try to fix the F-35 joint strike fighter program.

Nearly a decade after Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth division won the F-35 contract, the company is still struggling to deliver on its commitments for what is arguably the most technologically ambitious aircraft ever built.

In a nutshell, the F-35 program is five to six years behind schedule. The estimated cost to taxpayers has nearly doubled.

The military will not have combat-ready F-35s to replace 30-year-old warplanes until 2016, if then.

There are numerous reasons for the F-35 debacle, say longtime defense observers, and most of them were predictable: Pentagon officials and military officers cobble together unrealistic goals, timetables and budgets, and defense contractors sign on knowing that once a big program is launched, it's seldom canceled and the money keeps flowing.

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