Top Pentagon officials on Tuesday underscored their support for the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35, saying they would try to protect funding for the most expensive U.S. weapons program despite continued U.S. budget uncertainty and cost over-runs. The $396 billion F-35 program is already seven years behind schedule and 70 percent over initial cost estimates. ”We’ll try to protect the program,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top arms buyer, told a defense conference. “There’s no question about its priority. Despite sequestration, we’ll still have a budget that’s adequate to support F-35.” Kendall and other U.S. military officials spoke out in support of the program as it faces potentially damaging budget cuts that could lead to further delays and cost increases. Kendall said the program still required much hard work on technical issues, noting that testing of the new radar-evading fighter was only about one-third complete. But he said the U.S. military needed the new fighter jet’s next-generation capabilities. ”It is a transforming aircraft. It will give us dominance in the air, probably our most single important conventional warfighting capability for the foreseeable decades,” he told a conference hosted by Credit Suisse and consultant Jim McAleese.
But the fiscal topic of interest for the Pentagon is achieving $46 billion in defense spending savings:
F-35 gets improved marks, could still face deep cuts | Australian …
Even as a US government report has given the beleaguered Joint Strike Fighter program improved marks, the next-generation fighter has emerged as a prime target of Pentagon planners looking for ways to slash the defense budget, according to reports in the US media. With the Pentagon needing to find some $46 billion in savings under mandatory cuts known as the sequester, the $396 billion program — the most expensive in Pentagon history — looms an obvious target. Yet even as the Obama administration publicly works to avert cuts it describes as clumsy and indiscriminate, senior officials quietly view the sequester as an opportunity to scale back bloated “Cold War-era” weapons systems such as the JSF, according to a report in The New York Times. According to The Times, which quoted unnamed defense officials, planners believe cuts to such programs could save significantly more than $43 billion, freeing up money to expand efforts now seen as more critical, such as building more drones, developing cyberwarfare capabilities, and expanding Special Forces units. Major cuts to the program are certain to face significant political resistance and would be poorly received by advanced fighter jet’s partner countries such as Australia, since scaling back the US buy would increase per unit costs. Prime contractor Lockheed-Martin has spread the program’s work across nearly every state in the US, allowing it to argue that cuts to the program will cost jobs.
On the other hand, the Pentagon’s general, responsible for the program is sending a clear message for the need to streamline its design and developmental processes by making organizational changes:
The general in charge of the F-35 multinational Joint Strike Fighter effort is making organizational changes within the Pentagon’s program office, and he has a message for the jet’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, and engine-maker, Pratt & Whitney: Do the same thing. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said Tuesday that he is “not quite ready” to disclose the changes within the government program office yet. “I am making housekeeping changes. You just don’t know about them yet,” he told a small group of reporters after speaking at a conference here sponsored by Credit Suisse and McAleese and Associates. “Mark my word, I am reorganizing and I’m making personnel changes,” said Bogdan, who in December took over the nearly $400 billion program to build jets for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and U.S. allies.
More importantly JSF jets are back to their flight schedule after the incident with the broken engine blade:
Pentagon officials ended the six day grounding of the F-35 Thursday evening following the completion of an investigation into a broken engine fan blade on one of the aircraft. The investigation done by the program office and Pratt & Whitney, makers of the F-35 engine, found the crack was caused by “prolonged exposure to high levels of heat and other operational stressors,” said Kyra Hawn, the Joint Strike Fighter program spokeswoman, in a statement. Inspectors and engineers didn’t find any additional cracks in the engine of the aircraft in question or the rest of F-35s being tested, program officials said. “The engine in question is part of the F-35 test aircraft fleet and had been operated for extended time in the high-temperature environment in its mission to expand the F-35 flight envelope,” Hawn said in a statement. Seventeen test aircraft and 34 operational aircraft make up the F-35 fleet that includes three versions and stretches across the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Tests on the Pratt & Whitney F135 will continue as the F-35 returns to flying status, Hawn said.
Finally, the U.S. Pentagon has to prioritize its defense needs and spend money accordingly. The achievement of F-35 JSF air superiority is to be expensive.