USA — Officials reaffirm Pentagon’s commitment to F‑35

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Esti­mat­ed costs for the F‑35 Light­ning II joint strike fight­er have increased over the life of the pro­gram, but the Defense Depart­ment is work­ing to con­tain cost growth and remains com­mit­ted to the fifth-gen­er­a­tion fight­er, defense offi­cials said March 29.

Frank Kendall III said dur­ing con­fir­ma­tion tes­ti­mo­ny before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that cost over­runs for the stealth fight­er are about $150 bil­lion. Kendall is act­ing under­sec­re­tary of defense for acqui­si­tion, tech­nol­o­gy and logis­tics, and if con­firmed will assume that posi­tion officially. 

“We are doing every­thing we can to dri­ve down the cost of the joint strike fight­er,” Kendall told com­mit­tee members. 

He not­ed the pro­gram is still in test­ing, with about 20 per­cent of that process complete. 

“We are find­ing design issues as we go through the test pro­gram that we have to cor­rect,” he acknowl­edged. “So there are some cost adjust­ments asso­ci­at­ed with that.” 

Kendall out­lined the department’s actions to rein in the program’s price tag. 

“We are attack­ing the pro­duc­tion costs by putting strong incen­tives on the con­trac­tor to con­trol costs, to get the changes that have to be made cut in quick­ly,” he said. 

Con­cur­rent engi­neer­ing design is one issue that has raised costs, he told the pan­el. In that approach, which is intend­ed to devel­op a fin­ished prod­uct faster, a new sys­tem may simul­ta­ne­ous­ly be in engi­neer­ing, pro­duc­tion and test­ing process­es, he explained. 

“Most pro­grams start pro­duc­tion before they have com­plete­ly fin­ished their devel­op­men­tal tests,” he said. “The ques­tion is how much.” 

The joint strike fight­er was an “extreme exam­ple” of con­cur­ren­cy, he said, point­ing out that pro­duc­tion was start­ed more than a year before the first flight tests. 

Lessons learned dur­ing the F‑35’s devel­op­ment are now being applied to oth­er sys­tems, Kendall said. “What we are doing now is set­ting up exit cri­te­ria so that we don’t make that pro­duc­tion com­mit­ment until we are con­fi­dent that the design is rea­son­ably sta­ble,” he added. 

Kendall cau­tioned, how­ev­er, that the joint tac­ti­cal vehi­cle and ground com­bat vehi­cle could expe­ri­ence cost overruns. 

Giv­en the design com­plex­i­ty and the urgency com­mon to new defense equip­ment require­ments, “I am not con­fi­dent that any defense pro­gram will not expe­ri­ence over­runs,” he said. 

The depart­ment now sets tar­gets ear­ly for pro­grams, Kendall said, which should help to force the sup­pli­er and the cus­tomer to meet tar­get cost caps by mak­ing any nec­es­sary trade­offs between cost and capability. 

Kendall said he and his team also are work­ing to con­tain sus­tain­ment costs, “which are larg­er actu­al­ly than the pro­duc­tion costs.” Those costs rep­re­sent the great­est poten­tial cost cuts, he said, and the depart­ment will con­tin­ue to pur­sue those savings. 

“I do think that the strike fight­er is get­ting under con­trol,” he added. 

Kendall signed an acqui­si­tion deci­sion mem­o­ran­dum yes­ter­day on the F‑35, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary George Lit­tle told reporters March 29. 

Lit­tle said in keep­ing with the Defense Department’s bet­ter buy­ing pow­er ini­tia­tive, which requires track­ing afford­abil­i­ty tar­gets and costs asso­ci­at­ed with acqui­si­tion pro­grams, the mem­o­ran­dum sets the cur­rent out­look for F‑35 final per-unit costs in 2019, when the fifth-gen­er­a­tion fight­er is sched­uled to reach full production. 

In today’s dol­lars, that cost is esti­mat­ed at $81.4 mil­lion per air­craft, which when adjust­ed for infla­tion is esti­mat­ed at $94.9 mil­lion in 2019 dol­lars, Lit­tle said. 

Over­all oper­at­ing and sup­port costs of the pro­gram are esti­mat­ed at $1.1 tril­lion, up from last year’s esti­mate of $1 tril­lion, the press sec­re­tary added. 

Lit­tle not­ed some of that long-term increase comes from the department’s deci­sion, reflect­ed in the 2013 defense bud­get request, to help in meet­ing require­ments for short-term spend­ing cuts by post­pon­ing pur­chase of some of the fight­er aircraft. 

“We remain ful­ly com­mit­ted to the F‑35 pro­gram,” Lit­tle said, echo­ing Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta’s remarks March 27 dur­ing a vis­it to Canada’s cap­i­tal of Ottawa. “It’s very impor­tant to our capa­bil­i­ties (and) to our alliances.” 

The Unit­ed King­dom, Italy, the Nether­lands, Aus­tralia, Cana­da, Den­mark, Nor­way, Turkey, Israel and Sin­ga­pore are part­ners or par­tic­i­pants in the aircraft’s devel­op­ment pro­gram, and the Japan­ese gov­ern­ment announced in Decem­ber it will buy 42 of the fighters. 

“We are tak­ing steps to ensure that we main­tain fis­cal dis­ci­pline inside the pro­gram,” Lit­tle said. Panet­ta has said Kendall and the department’s acqui­si­tion, tech­nol­o­gy and logis­tics team have done an out­stand­ing job work­ing to con­tain costs for the stealth fight­er, he added. 

“This is a fifth-gen­er­a­tion fight­er,” Lit­tle not­ed. “It’s impor­tant for a vari­ety of rea­sons: to main­tain the U.S. military’s tech­no­log­i­cal edge, to increase inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with our allies, and … for a range of oth­er purposes.” 

U.S. Air Force 

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