JSF problems undercut backing in Congress

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JSF problems undercut backing in Congress

By Bob Cox Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Apr. 24, 2004 FORT WORTH - Rising costs and development delays have undermined congressional support for the F-35 joint strike fighter program, Navy Secretary Gordon England said Friday. Plans for the $240 billion, 2,600-plane program, being developed by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., are "being debated by the Congress," England said. "It is a serious issue on the Hill right now." England, who was a top executive of General Dynamics when it operated what is now Lockheed's west Fort Worth plant, was in town to receive the Goodwill Industries Citizen of the Year award.

The Navy is working closely with key members of Congress, particularly from Texas, to maintain support for the F-35, England said. "We support it strongly. We continue to work the program as hard as we can." The F-35 program has come under sharp scrutiny in recent months, on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon. Cost increases, a year's delay in the development schedule to solve weight issues and growing concern over federal budget deficits have led to increased attention. Lockheed President Robert Stevens said Thursday that the company will spend the next six to nine months examining the F-35 design to try to cut out weight that would limit the aircraft's ability to perform required missions.

There is especially strong concern about the short-takeoff and vertical-landing version, or F-35B, to be produced for the Marine Corps, the British Royal Navy and perhaps even the U.S. Air Force. That design is now estimated to be more than 3,000 pounds above the target weight. Both the Air Force and Navy versions are estimated about 1,500 pounds over target. Just a few hundreds pounds can mean the planes would have to carry less fuel or fewer weapons and hamper their ability to conduct combat missions. The Defense Department said in January that it was adding $5 billion to the development budget and adding a year to the timetable so Lockheed and its partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, could work on the design.

Congress is asking legitimate questions, England said. "Does the program need to be slowed down further? Are we spending the money wisely? "We need them to support the revised program," England said. "We don't want to delay it any further and drive up the costs. We need the airplane. The Navy needs the airplane. The Marines need the airplane." Military officials overseeing the program recently spent two days in Fort Worth meeting with Lockheed and its partners.

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