* No more money for fixing problems - Air Force Secretary
* F-35 official says Pentagon, Lockheed ties "worst" he's
* Helmet, software, computer system said still struggling
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Sept 17 Pentagon officials slammed
Lockheed Martin Corp's performance on the $396 billion
F-35 fighter jet program and said they would not bail out the
program again if problems with the plane's cutting-edge pilot
helmet and software were not resolved.
Deputy F-35 program manager Air Force Major General
Christopher Bogdan said on Monday the government's relationship
with Lockheed was the "worst I've ever seen" in many years of
working on complex acquisition programs.
He said those tensions posed a bigger threat to the
Pentagon's biggest weapons program than even nagging problems on
the plane's software, helmet and a complex computer system that
manages functions ranging from parts supply to mission planning.
The F-35 was designed to work with a sophisticated helmet
that displays all the information the pilot needs to fly the
Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told reporters the
Pentagon had no more money to pour into the program after three
costly restructurings in recent years. That meant any additional
cost overruns would eat into the number of planes to be ordered,
schedule delays or reduced capabilities, he said.
"The department is done with major restructures that involve
transferring billions of dollars into the F-35 program from
somewhere else in the defense budget. There's no further
flexibility or tolerance for that approach," Donley said.
The unusually public criticism of Lockheed's work on the
F-35 program followed a "very painful" Sept. 7 review that
focused an array of ongoing program challenges.
Lockheed responded with a brief statement, saying it would
continue to work with the Pentagon's F-35 program office to
deliver the new fighter. "We remain committed to continuing our
work to solve program challenges and build on the momentum and
success we've achieved during the past couple of years," said
spokesman Michael Rein.
Bogdan, who joined the program five weeks ago and is slated
to move into the top spot later this year, said the Pentagon
needed to revamp its overall approach to the program even as it
maintained pressure on Lockheed to improve its performance.
"We've got to shed our baggage," Bogdan told reporters after
a speech at the annual Air Force Association conference, vowing
to shake up the Pentagon's program office once the U.S. Senate
confirms him to replace retiring Navy Vice Admiral David Venlet.
"We've got to fundamentally change the way we day to day do
business with Lockheed Martin," Bogdan said, citing his
dissatisfaction with contract talks for a fifth batch of
fighters that have dragged on for over nine months. He said the
Pentagon also needed to stop making changes to the program,
calling such moves destabilizing to an already complex program.
Bogdan is no stranger to difficult programs, having led the
Air Force's controversial effort to buy a new refueling plane,
which eventually saw Boeing Co beat out Europe's EADS.
On Monday, Bogdan used his first public appearance since
switching to the F-35 program to speak openly about the
program's challenges. He said it was important to be realistic.
Lockheed Chief Executive Robert Stevens has publicly
expressed frustration about the Pentagon's demands for thousands
of pages of additional cost data as part of those negotiations,
arguing that requests were delaying the contract talks.
Bogdan faulted both sides for the impasse, noting Lockheed
had dragged its heels in answering some of those requests, but
also questioning why all the data was needed in the first place.
He said Lockheed and the Pentagon needed to streamline the
contract negotiations process or production would have to be
further slowed down, a prospect that could prove problematic for
the company and its many suppliers, who had been counting on
much higher production rates by this point in the program.
Bogdan said there was more actual cost data available, given
that the company had been building planes for some time, but
said the government still pressed for more savings.
Bogdan gave a lukewarm assessment of the program, saying it
was at a "good point, not great," and that he had only
"reasonable confidence" that the current plan would succeed.
He said the program still had a significant amount of flight
testing to do, having completed only about one-third of the
required flight testing.
There were also continuing issues with the plane's helmet,
overall software development and the automated logistics system,
Bogdan said, adding that the Pentagon was working closely with
Lockheed to address those areas.
The project is incredibly ambitious, given that the helmet
integrates data from all of the F-35's sensors and cameras,
allowing pilots to essentially see through the plane's floor and
all around it. It must update the data constantly even when the
plane travels at supersonic speeds and carries out complex
The helmet is being designed by a joint venture of Israel's
Elbit and Rockwell Collins.
Lockheed has also signed a contract with BAE Systems for
work on a slightly less ambitious helmet but Bogdan told
reporters on Monday that the Pentagon was still evaluating how
quickly the alternate helmet could be integrated into the
Bogdan said Lockheed was improving its production process,
and costs were coming down, but the pace of improvement needed
to pick up. He said Lockheed's suppliers were doing a better job
reducing scrap and rework rates than the prime contractor.
He said the Pentagon needed to look at different approaches
to the overall issue of sustaining the plane to bring in more
competition across the board, including on the troubled
Autonomic Logistics and Information System (ALIS).
Security challenges to that system required a revamp earlier
this year, but Bogdan said the new version was being tested and
should be ready in time for the Marine Corps to start using it
when it stands up an initial squadron in Arizona in November.
He said it was imperative to fix the ALIS system because it
was so integral to the plane's operation, adding, "If we don't
get ALIS right, we don't fly airplanes. It is that simple. It is
that critical to the program."
He said he was less optimistic that all the issues with the
helmet, including jitter in the display, delays and night vision
gaps, would be fully addressed by 2015, when the Marines want to
begin using the new single-seat, stealthy fighters.
"Time is not on our side when it comes to the Marine IOC
(initial operational capability)," Bogdan said.
Bogdan said the program also had work to do on the
F-35C-model being developed for use on board Navy aircraft
carriers. He said a reworked tailhook system succeeded only five
of eight times during flight tests earlier this year, but said
he was confident that the issue would be fixed.
"That one is not rocket science," he said.