The big F-35 news this week is the announcement that the military’s full compliment was grounded pending the investigation of an engine blade malfunction. It’s far from the only mishap the program has faced. But of arguably greater importance is a Reuters report that the chief heading up the project castigated some of the program’s contractors, Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney, during a speech at the Australian International Airshow in which he tried to convince the Australians to stick by their commitment to buy 100 of the planes. According to Reuters,

The Pentagon program chief for the F-35 warplane slammed its commercial partners Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney on Wednesday, accusing them of trying to “squeeze every nickel” out of the U.S. government and failing to see the long-term benefits of the project. U.S. Lieutenant-General Christopher Bogdan made the comments during a visit to Australia, where he has sought to convince lawmakers and generals to stick to a plan to buy 100 of the jets, an exercise complicated by the second grounding of the plane this year and looming U.S. defense cuts.

Several of many setbacks in the rolling boondoggle that is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program have been the significant reductions or cancellations of orders by partner countries.

  • Canadian F-35 procurement has been a disaster, not least because it’s become a major political issue for the Harper government, which has backtracked from its initial commitment to buy 65. Late last year a source said Canada wouldn’t be ordering any, and though the government has disputed that characterization, budget reductions and political battles over the jet have been fierce.
  • Due to budget austerity, Italy reduced its order by a third in February 2012, to 90 out of 131, becoming the first country to reduce its overall order.
  • Last year UK Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond announced that his government would purchase 48 of the F-35B variant, fewer than expected according to Jane’s. The previous government committed to 138.
  • Turkey cancelled its first order last month.
  • Israel is the only country that has upped its orders over time.
  • Norway and Denmark have been relatively unwavering so far, but the Dutch have been wary of ongoing cost increases.

It’s a truly terrible record for a project whose total cost to U.S. taxpayers is more than $1 trillion.

The price tag per plane of America’s closest ally? $161.6 million, close to initial estimates. America’s? More than double that.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Lockheed Martin has suppliers in nine countries, but only two have been cleared to manufacture the plane, Italy and Japan, the latter of which would like to produce most of its compliment domestically.