Troubled F-35 becomes latest coronavirus casualty after Pentagon puts the brakes on further tests

Tests being carried out on the delayed and over-budget F-35 have been suspended as part of a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus, the Pentagon has announced. The fighter plane has already suffered a string of pricey setbacks.

Activities necessary to complete the F-35’s operational test phase have been halted at Edwards Air Force Base in California, which has shut its doors to all non-essential personnel.

Flight tests have been indefinitely paused, but “select lab and ground test activities are ongoing,” said Brandi Schiff, a spokesperson for the F-35 joint program office.

The setback could also mark yet another delay for the fighter’s Joint Simulation Environment (JSE), which will allow the Pentagon to run threat scenarios in which the F-35 is matched up against military hardware from countries such as Russia and China.

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The F-35 program has experienced a dizzying array of technical issues – not to mention a ballooning price tag. A government estimate from March put the price tag at $1.2 trillion.

The Pentagon has been repeatedly accused of whitewashing the extent of problems that the fighter jet faces. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported in 2018 that the US military tried to cover up “life-threatening” design flaws in the aircraft. More recent problems include issues with the plane’s logistics systems.

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