Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) today urged the nominee tapped to serve as the Pentagon's next chief weapons tester to pay special attention to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
"I've been screwing around with the F-35 for the last 12 years," McCain said during a hearing. "At some universities and colleges around the country they'll be teaching this as a classic example of failure."
McCain said it was a critical time for the Defense Department to have in place a "strong, capable" director of operational test and evaluation.
"Often, it seems as though the department is in a rush to push some platforms -- like the F-35 -- through testing and evaluation prematurely, while at the same time delaying the delivery of other capabilities required to help us maintain our warfighting advantages," he said.
Robert Behler, a retired Air Force two-star, is the Trump administration's nominee to serve as the next director of operational test and evaluation, an independent office with a direct line to Congress. He most recently served as chief operating officer of Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute. He also previously was president of SRC and an executive at MITRE Corp.
"I have spent my entire career in the areas of national defense, testing, and the engineering and management of complex technical challenges," he said. "I have employed weapon systems in combat and have been both a developmental and operational test pilot. And, for the last five years I have been immersed in the technical areas of software engineering and cybersecurity, an experience that is particularly relevant in today's acquisition and testing environment."
Behler said that, if confirmed, he would champion early developmental testing and "fly before you buy" acquisition strategies.
McCain said lawmakers would rely on Behler to provide unbiased assessments of weapon systems.
"I remain disappointed by the department's inability or unwillingness to take advantage of the acquisition reforms this committee has mandated over the past three years," McCain said. "If confirmed, we will look to you to make positive changes to our testing and evaluation practices to support the implementation of these reforms. We cannot afford unnecessary delays in delivering new capabilities to our warfighters -- and yet, we must ensure that we deliver systems that are safe and reliable. We will expect you, if confirmed, to balance those conflicting priorities."
McCain also said he was "deeply disturbed" by a classified RAND Corp. report detailing how quickly potential adversaries are closing in on the F-35's capabilities. (Emphasis added—Ed.)
"I remain concerned with the ability to deliver the F-35 program on its latest delayed schedule and within its already massive budget," he said.