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​An airman prepares an F-35A for take-off at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, Feb. 12, 2016. The aircraft was there to validate its capability to deploy as part of an operational test by the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron from Edwards AFB, Calif. Air Force photo by A1C Jessica H. Evans.

​A planned F-35 upgrade should be considered a separate acquisition program to improve oversight, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Thursday. The GAO recommended Congress direct the Pentagon to breakout the follow-on modernization, or Block 4, because it is expected to need nearly $3 billion in funding over the next six years, an amount that would qualify it as a major acquisition program, according to the report. If DOD continues to handle the configuration as part of the existing baseline, the report notes, the block will not be subject to certain statutory and regulatory oversight requirements, and transparency will be limited. However, the F-35 joint program office said in statement that separating Block 4 “would generate an unnecessary administrative burden and create challenges in maintaining a partnered environment outside of the existing program charter.” The office will work with Congress to establish reporting requirements on the upgraded configuration’s cost, schedule, and performance as necessary, according to the statement.