Pentagon Calms Rhetoric Against Lockheed Over F-35

Marine test pilot makes first F-35B night landing at sea

The U.S. Defense Department has significantly scaled back its criticism against Lockheed Martin Corp. over development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons acquisitions program.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the general overseeing the effort, said the relationship between the service and Lockheed — the plane’s manufacturer and the world’s biggest defense contractor — along with engine-maker Pratt & Whitney, part of United Technologies Corp., is “orders of magnitude” better than it was a year ago.

“I’m encouraged by where we are today,” he said Tuesday at the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition at National Harbor, Md. “I’d like to be a little further along.”

The comments were a stark contrast to those Bogdan made at the same forum last year, when he called the relationship the “worst I’ve ever seen.” On Tuesday, Bogdan indicated his previous remarks were deliberate. “I threw a hand grenade into the crowd … that was intended,” he said.

Over the past year, the service and the Bethesda, Md.-based defense contractor have successfully negotiated contracts for two batches of aircraft known as Lots 6 and Lots 7, Bogdan said. Moreover, the terms of the agreements stipulate that Lockheed will have to pay for any cost overruns, he said.

Still, Bogdan didn’t rule out that the military may have to reduce the number of aircraft it ultimately intends to buy because of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

The estimated price tag to develop and build 2,457 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets includes $326.9 billion for air frames and $64.3 billion for engines, according to Pentagon figures released earlier this year. The combined amount is $4.5 billion, or 1.1 percent, less than an estimate of $395.7 billion released in March 2012. The decline was attributed in part to revised labor rates charged by the prime contractor and its subcontractors.

The Defense Department in fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1, plans to spend $8.4 billion to buy 29 F-35 Lightning IIs, including 19 for the Air Force, six for the Marine Corps and four for the Navy, according to the budget request released last month. The plane is designed to replace such aircraft as the F-16, A-10, F/A-18 and AV-8B.

Across-the-board budget reductions may force the military to decrease the quantity of aircraft it plans to purchase, Bogdan said. Even so, the plane more affordable is still the program’s priority, he said.

“We can have the best airplane in the world, but if no one can afford it, then it does us no good,” he said.

Bogdan said he is confident the Marine Corps will be able to begin operational flights of its version of the F-35 in 2015, followed by the Air Force in 2016 and the Navy in 2019. Test pilot Lt. Col. C.R. “Jimi” Clift on Aug. 14 completed the first ever vertical night landing aboard the USS Wasp at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.

Software problems are still the biggest risk for the program, Bogdan said. Lockheed this summer said it boosted its software workforce by 200 engineers and invested $100 million to build a second laboratory to write, test and verify the code.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • BlackOwl18E

    Read the Vanity Fair article. It confirms that Lockheed payed off nearly every congressman and a vast majority of the Senate in “campaign funds” to keep the F-35 alive, which is not illegal by law, but definitely is corrupt. Lockheed then sourced jobs to as many states and countries that it could so that it would lock them in and make sure they all had a stake in the game. They purposefully built this so that it could eat up money and not get canceled. It also confirms that the military can declare the aircraft at IOC before their operational testing is completed and they can even do it regardless of the OP testing results. When the F-35 reaches IOC it will be nothing more than a marketing gimmick.

    What’s worse is that none of these planes are affordable nor can they out perform the aircraft they are replacing. The Navy is now saying that they may need to drop to 8 or 7 carriers to pay for the F-35C. The Air Force is considering grounding its A-10s, KC-10 tankers, and possibly F-15Cs to afford the F-35A. The Marines have already hinted at retiring their Legacy Hornets and making many other cuts in much needed armored vehicles to buy the F-35B. The Dutch recently halved their order of F-35As and they needed to drop a lot of their capabilities to do it.

    The F-35 program was built on a corrupt process that was a total win for the Military Industrial Complex and a complete loss for the armed services and taxpayers of all nations involved. It sucks up funds in the budget like a black hole while delivering virtually nothing.

    To all those that argued with me in these hallowed discussion boards: Turns out I was right the entire time, but you are going to get the F-35 anyway. I hope you’re happy….

    • Beltway Bandit

      Cool story bro

    • blight_
    • blight_

      “The original plan was that about 70 percent of all the parts on the airplanes would be common; the actual figure today is about 25 percent. Commonality, even at this reduced level, has unintended consequences. When a crack in a low-pressure turbine blade was discovered in an air-force F-35A engine earlier this year, Pentagon officials took the only responsible course, given that the part is used in all models: they grounded the entire fleet of F-35s, not just the ones flown by the air force. In his June testimony, the Pentagon’s Dr. Gilmore revealed another, less public grounding of the entire F-35 test fleet, which occurred in March 2013 after the discovery of “excessive wear on the rudder hinge attachments.””

      Wow, 25% commonality. If that’s true, then it’s pretty much where I had wished F-35 had aimed in the first place. Common engine? Good. Common avionics? Good. Stop there, trying too hard, possibly for diminishing marginal utility from here on out, especially for aircraft in three very different applications. But it’s a little too late now…

      “From the outset, Lockheed assured Pentagon officials that technological innovation, including heavy reliance on computer simulation, which could take the place of real-world testing, would keep costs down. The Pentagon bought those assurances and allowed the company to design, test, and produce the F-35 all at the same time, instead of insisting that Lockheed identify and fix defects before firing up its production line. Building an airplane while it is still being designed and tested is referred to as concurrency. ”

      Which is pretty much what happened to the V-22. Get deliverable aircraft in alpha testing, fix on-the-go (or use the government as your guinea pigs?). It gets some kind of product into the hands of customers sooner, but if the product is still way too immature to give to the customer, what is the plus? If product still requires a lot of exensive rework, then every new aircraft you build means another aircraft that has to be updated when changes start rolling in, or it’s some aircraft you build, park in a corner and forget about while you are rushing to roll more aircraft off the line while changing production on the fly.

      • XYZ

        I’m an aerospace engineering. Concurrency was a bad idea in the early days of NASA and the Army’s missile programs, and it’s a bad idea now. Our computer modeling and simulation capabilities aren’t ready for it yet – too many unknowns; unfortunately challenging systems engineering practices like concurrency make things even worse.

        • XYZ

          Why is there no edit button? I’m an aerospace engineer…

          • blight_

            Register an IntenseDebate account or whatnot, or live with the anonymity that comes with the loss of editing functionality.

    • blight_

      “…Total System Performance Responsibility. The idea was that government oversight was unduly burdensome and costly; the solution was to put more power in the hands of contractors. In the case of the Joint Strike Fighter, Lockheed was given near-total responsibility for design, development, testing, fielding, and production. In the old days, the Pentagon would have provided thousands of pages of minute specifications. For the Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon gave Lockheed a pot of money and a general outline of what was expected.”

      This is essentially what the CIA did with the Skunk Works. They gave them a great deal of flexibility to do things at very low rate-of-production. But even when called on to increase volume production of the U-2 and SR-71, production did not suffer. F-117 was probably the first Skunk Works product that likely would have fallen under The Usual Rules of Doing Business, but even that product didn’t break too much bank.

    • tmb2

      With regards to the bribery and building it everywhere, hasn’t that been the SOP for every aircraft program since the B-2?

      The part where we agree to buy it based on powerpoint is new though.

    • I’m old enough to remember the articles in Playboy and other “popular” magazines of the time on what overpriced dogs the F-14 and F-15 were. How the companies were corrupt and how the price for both had skyrocketed and how they were already obsolete before they were even fielded.

      With all the changes in the last 30 years it’s good to see that one aspect of the political weltanschauung hasn’t changed a bit.

    • Ed C

      I don’t put too much creditin any vanity Fair article, especially when it comes to anything military related. I’m sure some of thier left wing agenda played a part in writing this article. While I’m not a big fan of this jet (I think they should’ve upgraded the F-14) I have to take what they say with a grain of salt.

    • Praetorian
    • Wow, so we’re deciding defense matters according to Vanity Fair now? Glad to see we got an expert source. Now, let’s see, you say the Navy is considering getting rid of 7 or 8 cxarriers? So you are suggesting that the Navy is going to buy hundreds of F-35Cs, not to mention the nearly 500 F-18E/F/Gs, E-2C/Ds. And of course one carrier will likely be in maintenance – how does that make sense to you? It might also have occurred to you that the KC-10s that “might” be grounded by the Air Force, might be used to pay for the KC-46 and not the F-35As. I also doubt you are aware that the Air Force has been trying to get rid of the A-10s long before the 1st F-35 took flight. Now please refrain from making outlandish statements that you can’t back up.

  • Bernard

    The F-35 needs to die. It was supposed to save costs not shoot them into the stratosphere. VTOL is a waste of money and cripples fixed wing aircraft performance. Stealth is expensive to maintain. Trying to fit the Air Force, Navy, Marine, and foreign needs all in one air frame only makes the complexity worse especially with conflicting requirements. We asked for too much and now will we get less for it while paying a whole lot more.

    This is insane.

  • Menzie

    I love when people say “I told you so Shows a lot of maturity. I wasn’t even aware of Defense Tech tll a few months ago and never saw your arguments against it. IO would even have joined in with you but never to say “I told you so” I grew up a few years ago.

  • bret

    Vanity Fair. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! ROTFL!

  • OMEGATALON

    One thing people keep forgetting is that the F-35 is a program of 3 jets as aft of the cockpit, there’s very few common components with the 3 variants and the Government simply don’t have any option at this stage of the game as it’s too late to start a GEN6 program and keep flying the jets in inventory and the F-35 wasn’t a Black Program developed in secrecy as the Pentagon has had Lockheed Martin make hundreds of changes to the jets and with each change comes delays and added cost.

  • blight_

    What’s worse is that the F-35 was chosen based on a demonstrator flyoff using OTS systems, not the new fancy that we are twiddling our thumbs in development hell for.

    We are doing the equivalent of buying a computer based on the coolest looking box. Bad idea. If it’s the systems that are supposed to make the -35, then the demonstration should be based on proven systems. We are not ready for 5G yet…we weren’t ready when it was Boeing vs Lockheed and we might not even be ready now.

    Amusingly, many of JSF’s 5G electronics should have been pushed forward as next gen avionics, backported first into the existing fleet and then integrated into “the new jet”. Yes, it’s expensive to rip out old stuff and upgrade old airframes, but the way the F-35 is rigged, the fancy avionics are bundled in the expensive jet, so you have to get both together.

    • Atomic Walrus

      I think you need to remember what the demonstrators were meant to accomplish: evaluate design concepts for a family of aircraft capable of performing CTOL, VSTOL, and CATOBAR operations. If DOD had simply down-selected on the basis of proposals, they might have ended up with the Boeing X-32 concept. It looked great on paper, but it turned out to have a number of serious technical problems when turned into a demonstrator. As I recall from the Discovery documentary ca. 2002, the vectored thrust system couldn’t deliver enough thrust, the tail had to be redesigned due to control issues (introducing further weight problems) and some of the proposed composite construction methods didn’t pan out. Avionics are a big part of a combat aircraft, but they’re not terribly useful if the aircraft can’t fly.

      • blight_

        Which suggests the deep flaw of the demonstrator process, in which the prototype has very little relationship to the final product. If anything, it only proves that Lockheed could build a F-35 using 4G present-day electronics.

        Indeed, Boeing got roasted by using a conventional thrust-vector system instead of the LiftSystem on the -B, and that spelled the end of their program. But at the moment it seems that the systems are contributing to a weight problem, one that didn’t exist at the demonstrator level.

        Rolling out demonstrator-style F-35’s and keeping the “real” F-35 in beta-testing would’ve put a relatively cheap and low-tech product out there to directly replace the F-16 (perhaps competing with Lockheed’s bottom line?).

        • Atomic Walrus

          The demonstrator process showed that there was more capability in the Lockheed V/STOL approach than the Boeing approach. You can’t assume that Boeing would’ve been immune to the systems issues encountered during F-35 development. There’s also a world of difference between the level of engineering that has to go into a demonstrator and a production aircraft meant for use by actual operators. That’s one of the reasons that the Skunk Works can produce aircraft like the F-117 with a lean team on a tight timeline vs. the McDonnell-Douglas/Northrop team it took to deliver the F-18. The demonstrators were X-planes that did what they were supposed to do: identify the better aerodynamic & propulsion approach for a family of jets including a V/STOL variant.

    • So you want to make a 4th generation plane cost as much as a 5th generation plane with new electronics, but an old engine, an aging airframe (remember thet F-15 that tore its self apart in half), and is not stealthy? Of course, then you have to take it through an extensive flight test program. And, you would be lucky to have the propper electrical generation and cooling needed to run the new systems. Who knows what sort of buldges and bumps will be needed to make all that fit. Why should we do all that?

  • Justin H

    I said this a couple years ago that they needed to kill the program. They could have and should have then, its way too late now. It was a nifty idea on paper back in the Clinton military downsizing era of the 90s. Lockheed execs are laughing all the way to their cayman island bank accounts.

    • Vaporhead

      Careful there……many folks who visit this site are obsessed with the F-35 and they don’t care how much tax dollars are wasted, or how the F35 actually performs. Their hearts are broken whenever you say anything negative about the program.

  • Justin H
  • Justin H
  • Big-Dean

    The “good?” Gen must’ve been promised a “good?” job at Lockhead after he retires.

  • Tallgrass05

    Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against the military-industrial complex. Perhaps now it’s more properly called the industrial-political-military complex.

    • blight_

      He also warned us of the dangers of government monopolizing research, and of any one thing monopolizing government budgets in the long-term, not just the military. If anything, he correctly anticipated the present day fight between guns and butter and how much of a role government must have in society.

      • tiger
      • tiger
  • Rubio K
    • blight_

      …have you actually read the thing? smsgt mac, attack!

  • tmb2

    “We can have the best airplane in the world, but if no one can afford it, then it does us no good,” he said.

    Great advice. Package it up and mail it to 2006.

  • Thomas

    They killed the F22, because it was too expensive, even though it kicked butt, and replaced it with this turkey, which ended up being just as expensive, and not half as good, one plane fr all three services? WHY, the Air Force should have gotten F22’s, the navy a next gen super Hornet, and the Marines, re vamped A-10s and Harriers. It would have saved boat loads of money, and got the job done better.

  • Meph

    This is also worth a ready on the subject. http://www.ausairpower.net/jsf.html

  • James T. York

    Remember the last “jack of all trades” airplane, the F-111? Failed in every mission except medium-low altitude light SCRAM attack. Promoted as a carrier airplane, air defense, strategic bomber, tanker and RAVEN. Not only did it lack the range and altitude to complete missions, it lacked load carrying and, like the F-35, had so many systems built-in and was so “dense” that upgrades were nearly impossible. The expected 3,000 plus planes were cut to only a few hundred that spent their entire airframe lives looking for someone to give them a mission–an operational orphan. The development of this aircraft was problematic and very much delayed just like the F-35. History repeats itself. I am showing my age but does anyone remember the ” Colossal weight reduction program” and other Aardvark issues?

  • Voice-of-Reason

    It’s funny how people will believe everything they read, even when they have no real insight into the true story. When will people learn that the media paints the picture that will “sell” or that will draw the most attention? The F-35 is the most advanced aircraft ever built. From an overall capabilities perspective, no one else in the world has anything like it. This aircraft is a workhorse and a very formidable weapon system. Anyone that thinks otherwise is just believing the negative hype.

  • hibeam

    It’s a POS. We have dropped the word total.

  • hibeam

    It could have been a decent jet if the Marines had not demanded it also be a jeep.

  • “We can have the best airplane in the world, but if no one can afford it, then it does us no good,” he said.

    I heard this exact quote, on exactly the same subject…. 40 years ago.

  • kickstarter
  • oblatt1

    When your business plans are based on betraying your country buying another Airforce general is pretty small beans

  • Jess

    Quoting Benard:

    Currently the F-35 is only STOVL without a weapons load and low fuel. If they had gone for STOL (not vertical)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBI7uiDQA6Y

    1:30 and after in the video. GASP is that plane being loaded with weapons?
    How did the plane land without melting the deck?
    This is a perfect example of people being led astray with regards to information concerning this plane. I could point out other things in this video that are contrary to your opinion but I will not. If we are going to light up the internet with vitriol, then lets try to be informed ok.

  • 45K20E4

    I know I will get crucified for this….

    But tell me again why, in this day and age of inter-service operation, does the USMC need their own air force? It’s not WWII, where having a Marine in the cockpit was a distinct advantage to close air support.

    VTOL/STOVL should be totally scrapped. Build the AF version and let the Navy do whatever it is that will work best for them (Super Hornets?)

  • Peter

    I’ve said this before and I’m saying it again. I’m from the UK and I really wish we weren’t buying this plane (the VTOL version) for our new carriers! We should have had cats and traps on the carriers and bought Super Hornets, or maybe a marinised version of the Typhoon?

    Also the carriers should have been nuclear powered, but that’s just another gripe!

  • Hefe

    Japan tested it against the Typhoon and other 4th generation jets, it wiped the floor with them. Also, it can scan passively for incredible distances. The russian and chinese jets scan actively which will make them easy for an f-35 pilot to detect. The price is set to lower with every production lot. It’s expensive now but it will be cheap and affordable as more come on line. Think of the U.S. and our allies having 3,000 + of these bad boys.

  • hunter76

    Bogdan has been returned from the woodshed.

  • now2node

    I wonder if Pentagon got a memo from the Commerce/State Department? And Lockheed Martin?

    That potential foreign buyers may not buy F35 due to the criticism from Pentagon itself…

  • tiger

    How many years has it been since the USS Wasp made a deployment? 10 years?

  • To alll: here my propaosal :
    In 90s navy should bought Super Tomcat and wait for UCAS-D. For VTOl stick with upgraded Harier and buy sea version of RAH-66. Buy either yf22 or 23 developt it in to fighter bomber. And go for naval version too.

    Forget yf 22 and yf 23 Buy N-ATF and then turned to version for air force or stick with same one so in case of war Naval loses could be replenished from airforce stock.

    With produrment of electornics implemnt tic tock strategy. So First you will develop engines and avinics in on round and in second airframe. So their will be Silent eagles for semostrationg NATF and ATF engines and avionics first and then just stick it to new plane.
    Buy VTOL dorne for Marines. Problem solved saved 150 bilions more airframe with better capability.

    Hey guys did you forget about x-36? MDD propousal for JSF?

    • tiger

      Ok….. You & Mr Peabody jump into the Wayback machine and make that happen. Meanwhile buy some Apple stock for me before the Timecops chase you down.