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It has suffered technical failures and huge cost overruns, prompting Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, in December to call it “both a scandal and a tragedy.”

The Government Accountability Office reported in June that total acquisition costs in the past five years ballooned 42 percent, to $395 billion. Full-rate production now is not scheduled to begin until 2019, a six-year delay.

In the most recent Pentagon budget review, in which $487 billion was cut from the 10-year spending plan, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta opted to stretch out procurement but not terminate the program.

The services know, however, that another wave of budget cuts is looming — about $500 billion if Congress cannot agree on a deficit-reduction plan by January. In that case, analysts say, several procurement budget lines will be in jeopardy, including the F-35.

The GAO criticized the Pentagon for its big bet on “concurrency” — that is, developing and producing the plane at the same time. The Pentagon is buying 365 F-35s before developmental flight tests are completed.

Said the GAO: “Development of critical-mission systems providing core combat capabilities remains behind schedule and risky. To date, only 4 percent of the mission systems required for full capability have been verified. Deficiencies with the helmet-mounted display, integral to mission systems functionality and concepts of operation, are most problematic.”