Sunday, August 14, 2011

DoD Might Cut Jets from 5th F-35 Batch

The Pentagon might have to cut the number of F-35 Lightning II fighters it purchases in an upcoming buy to cover increased development costs in early model jets, unless Congress approves a $264 million funding transfer, according to U.S. Defense Department documents.

The Pentagon is asking for $264 million so it doesn't have to cut the number of F-35 Lightning II fighters it purchases in an upcoming buy, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. (Samuel King Jr. / U.S. Air Force)
This comes in response to threats by the top two senators from the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee who have opposed cuts to other areas of the defense budget to cover cost overruns in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program.
"Based on the current information submitted to the Senate, I intend to oppose the Department's 'reprogramming request' to transfer $264 million for unacceptable cost overruns on the F-35 program," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement.
In addition to the $264 million, the Defense Department has told the Senate panel it needs to find an additional $496 million to pay for the remainder of the cost overruns on the first three lots of production aircraft, according to a July 14 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from McCain and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
DoD asked Congress to approve the JSF money transfer in a 91-page, June 30 omnibus reprogramming. Congress has yet to OK the measure.
The cost overruns surround 31 of the single-engine jets purchased over the past five years, according to a Pentagon acquisition document. The aircraft were part of the first three low-rate initial production (LRIP) buys.
"If the reprogramming request is not approved, additional funding within the JSF program will be diverted to cover these costs," the document said.
The additional funds would cover development cost increases involving "both airframe and propulsion contracts," the reprogramming document said.
In addition to F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems build parts of the fuselage. Pratt & Whitney builds the engine that powers the stealth jet.
The cost increases came before then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates restructured the multiservice F-35 program earlier this year, according to the acquisition document.
"The JSF program is already working to cover most of the cost overruns internally," the document said.
Last year, the Pentagon and Lockheed negotiated an LRIP-4 contract for jets that caps the government's vulnerability to cost increases and rewards the contractor for controlling cost growth. DoD plans to use a similar fixed-price structure during LRIP-5 negotiations later this year.
But if Congress does not approve the $264 million reprogramming, the Pentagon might have to shrink the number of jets purchased in LRIP-5.
"The diversion of additional JSF funds could result in the purchase of fewer aircraft in LRIP 5 and result in future cost increases for the JSF program," the acquisition document said.
The F-35 is the Pentagon's largest acquisition program ever, with a total price tag estimated at more than $380 billion, which includes development and production. An updated program cost is expected this fall.
The Pentagon plans to buy 2,443 F-35s, which will be flown by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Hundreds of foreign sales are also expected.
The Air Force jet flies from traditional runways and the Navy jet from aircraft carriers. The Marine Corps version can take off from short runways or smaller amphibious ships and land vertically.
The jet will replace a number of combat aircraft, including the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and A-10 Warthog.
After years of development issues, the program had gained steam in recent months, completing flight test objectives faster than most recently planned. However, all 20 F-35 test jets were grounded Aug. 2 following a failure of the aircraft's power system.