F-35 Reaches Critical Juncture After Strong Year, Official Says

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2012 — The F-35 Light­ning II joint strike fight­er pro­gram — the cen­ter­piece of future tac­ti­cal avi­a­tion and a key to imple­ment­ing new mil­i­tary strate­gic guid­ance — made strong progress in its devel­op­ment last year, a defense offi­cial said today.

Frank Kendall, act­ing under­sec­re­tary of defense for acqui­si­tion, tech­nol­o­gy and logis­tics, told the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that the fight­er air­craft is essen­tial to the Defense Depart­ment, and that it made “strong progress” in 2011.

“Last fall, the depart­ment engaged in a strat­e­gy and bud­get review, where every­thing — and I do mean every­thing — was on the table,” Kendall said. “After a care­ful look at the joint strike fight­er pro­gram, the depart­ment deter­mined that we do need the JSF [and] that we need all three vari­ants of the fight­er, and that we need the planned inven­to­ry of 2,443 jets.”

That said, Kendall added, “you must rec­og­nize there is still a long way to go for JSF.” The F-35 flight test pro­gram is only about 20 per­cent com­plete and “many of the more chal­leng­ing ele­ments of flight test are still ahead of us,” he said.

Kendall not­ed the F-35 devel­op­ment has reached a cru­cial point in the con­ver­sion from being con­cep­tu­al­ized to actu­al pro­duc­tion.

“The JSF pro­gram is under­go­ing the crit­i­cal tran­si­tion from devel­op­ment to pro­duc­tion,” he said. “His­tor­i­cal­ly, this is always a dif­fi­cult phase for any pro­gram, but par­tic­u­lar­ly so for a high-per­for­mance air­craft.”

That tran­si­tion has been even more dif­fi­cult for the F-35, Kendall said, because the pro­gram began pro­duc­tion very ear­ly, well before flight test­ing had begun.

That deci­sion for ear­ly pro­duc­tion result­ed in an unprece­dent­ed lev­el of con­cur­ren­cy, which drove the need for sig­nif­i­cant changes in the pro­gram, he said. “With this year’s bud­get, I believe we are now set on a course for pro­gram sta­bil­i­ty,” he added.

Navy Vice Adm. David Ven­let, pro­gram man­ag­er for the F-35, also said the pro­gram now is on track. “The F-35 has sched­ule and bud­get real­ism now going for­ward,” he said. “It is trans­par­ent in the dis­cov­ery and cor­rec­tion of issues aris­ing in test that are typ­i­cal in all fight­er air­craft devel­op­ment.”

Ven­let told the Con­gress mem­bers he believes the F-35 “is a crit­i­cal pres­ence in the com­bined force bat­tle space. It makes many oth­er sys­tems and capa­bil­i­ties and effects bet­ter because of the pres­ence of the F-35’s sen­sors.”

Ven­let called the F-35 a “crit­i­cal pres­ence” to many nations, as well as being a bond of joint strength across all U.S. mil­i­tary ser­vices.

“It is a bond of capa­bil­i­ty and a bond eco­nom­i­cal­ly across many nations that rais­es the lev­el of tech­nol­o­gy ben­e­fit in our mil­i­taries and our indus­tries,” he said.

Ven­let called the F-35 “the best pos­si­ble growth plat­form to incor­po­rate future advances in weapons, sen­sors and net­works.” The F-35 also is an assur­ance to ser­vice mem­bers that “they will suc­ceed in every mis­sion and return home safe­ly to their loved ones.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)