WASHINGTON --- Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are not pleased with the Pentagon office that is assigned to work with Lockheed Martin on negotiating a price for the F-35 fighter jet, the nation’s most expensive defense program.
Inside a 372-page document explaining the impacts of the 2017 budget on defense spending is a two-page mention of the F-35 fighter jet, which is assembled in Fort Worth, Texas, by Lockheed.
The document blasts the Pentagon office tasked with running the F-35 program as non-communicative with Congress.
“Throughout the fiscal year 2017 budget review process, the Joint Strike Fighter Joint Program Office provided insufficient justification and incomplete information in an untimely manner,” the document reads. “It is imperative that requested information is received promptly for proper congressional oversight of this major defense acquisition program.”
The Pentagon did not return a request for comment. Lockheed Martin declined to comment.
“They need to be transparent, don’t they?” said Rep. Roger Williams, an Austin, Texas, Republican. “We need to have better communications, we need to demand that they watch expenses. This is taxpayer money they are spending. There should be no surprises in Congress based on what the Pentagon has done.”
The document is part of a temporary spending bill that lasts through Sept. 30 and received the blessing of both parties after weeks of negotiations. It includes an $15 billion increase in defense spending, although not as much as President Donald Trump wanted. The spending bill is expected to be signed by Trump before midnight on Friday, avoiding a government shutdown.
Additionally, Congress says in the report that the Pentagon failed to contract the number of F-35 that it asked for in the 2015 and 2016 budget bills, which resulted in “impeding production efficiencies.”
“Four F-35s included in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2015 and 13 F-35s included in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2016 were not part of their respective low rate initial production (LRIP) contracts due to the ... contracting strategy,” the document reads.
Richard Aboulafia, a military aircraft analyst with Teal Group, a Northern Virginia based aeronautics analysis firm, said the difference between the number of F-35s appropriated by Congress and ultimately built by Lockheed could be due to production bottlenecks on the Fort Worth assembly line or among Lockheed’s myriad subcontractors.
“This is clearly not a problem that can be solved by throwing cash at it,” Aboulafia said. “It might be that planes need to be modified and reworked, and trying to get the learning curve with three different planes is difficult. Production is happening at a much lower rate than we hoped for.”
Part of the difference between Congress’ desires for the F-35 and what is ultimately agreed to between the Pentagon and Lockheed is the complexities of the F-35C, the variant of the jet designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers. The F-35C has experienced issues with excessive shaking during take-off and inadequate wing strength in recent months, and those problems need to be corrected before full production ramps up.
“It’s very telling that the Joint Program Office is not providing information Congress is asking for at this time in particular, when the program office is really working to secure a significant increase in production,” said Dan Grazier, a fellow at The Project for Government Oversight, a government watchdog group that opposes the F-35. “The program is supposed to shift into test and operation period, so this is a very concerning ... development.”
Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis ordered a review of the F-35C in January after Trump complained that the F-35 program was too expensive. The review compares the F-35C with the F-18 Super Hornet, a plane built by Lockheed competitor Boeing. The review is still ongoing. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the McClatchy website.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: While Congress may occasionally stamp at its feet in a fit of pique at how the F-35 Joint Program Office runs the program according to its own agenda, the Pentagon continues to ignore all and any criticism of the program and keeps the money flowing.
Just this week, for example, the Pentagon on May 1 awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.37 billion contract committing to the next 230 production F-35s.
This was in complete disregard of an April 24 report in which the Government Accountability Office warned that “DOD needs to complete developmental testing before making significant new investments.”
Clearly, the Appropriations Committee’s statement described in the above article is little more than empty posturing.)