One month after 9/11, the Pentagon launched into an ambitious program to build a new generation of fighter jets, smarter and more powerful than the increasingly outdated F-16. Twelve years later, Vanity Fair takes a deep dive into the F-35 program, which has bloated into the most expensive weapons system in American history, but seems unlikely to produce a combat-ready plane any time soon. The program is now seven years behind schedule, plagued by defective parts and frequent malfunctions. The most ambitious element of the project is the 360-degree heads-up display, designed to give pilots a "God's-eye view" of the airspace. But contractors have yet to deliver the intricate code designed to make the helmet display work, and the current model is plagued by latency issues.

Most of the blame falls to Lockheed Martin, which took the lead on the F-35's design and benefited from many of its cost overruns, a process one anonymous source describes as "acquisition malpractice." Describing a critical early weight review, the source says, "there was nothing they wouldn’t do to get through those reviews. They cut corners. And so we are where we are."