U.S. Senate Committee: Start No JSFs in 2008

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U.S. Senate Committee: Start No JSFs in 2008

WILLIAM MATTHEWS Defense News, 11 May 2006

Concerned that the U.S. military continues to pour money into untested weapons, the Senate Armed Services Committee wants to slow down initial low-rate production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
A committee vote to cut $1.2 billion from the program in the 2007 defense authorization bill would stop the Pentagon from building the 16 aircraft planned for 2008. It would not affect plans to start construction next year of five of the high-tech, single-engine stealthy jet fighters.
House members, too, said they want more testing of the Joint Strike Fighter, but they did not eliminate funding for the 16 planes.
The Defense Department asked Congress for $5.2 billion in 2007 funding for the JSF program. The House trimmed $241 million from the program, but then added $408 million to continue work on an alternative engine for the plane. That pushed the House total to $5.5 billion.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has vowed to try to restore the $1.2 billion cut by the Senate committee when the full Senate votes on the $517.7 billion authorization bill. That may not happen until June. JSFs are assembled in Fort Worth.
The Senate committee followed the advice of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which recommended in March against spending any "procurement dollars" on the JSF until more testing has been completed.
Michael Sullivan, the GAO's director of acquisition and sourcing management, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March that the JSF program plans to begin "low-rate initial procurement in 2007 with less than 1 percent of the flight testing program completed and no production-representative prototypes build for the three JSF variants."
Sullivan warned that if production goes forward, critical features of the aircraft - such as its low observable or stealth capability, advanced mission systems and maintenance prognostics systems - will not have been tested before production begins.
Starting production before testing has led to problems in the past, Sullivan warned. The F-22 stealth fighter, the Comanche helicopter and the B-2 bomber all began production before completing much testing and all "far exceeded the cost and delivery goals set at the start of their development programs," he said.
But Lockheed spokesman John Kent warns that withholding money and slowing the program will lead to "a tremendous balloon in the cost of the program." Kent said he could not provide a dollar estimate, but the cost increase would be "very large."
"We need to have the program fully funded to stick to our schedule and meet our domestic and international commitments," he said.
Lockheed is building the JSF - which it calls the F-35 - for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and for eight allied countries.
One goal of the JSF program is to deliver an affordable fighter, he said. "You cannot deliver a plane affordably by doing all the testing first."
At $256 billion for 2,443 planes, the JSF is the most expensive weapon program in U.S. history.
Kent expressed optimism that the Senate Armed Services Committee decision will be reversed. "It's really early in the budget process," he said. "We expect to see a lot of reports in the coming weeks and months with a variety of proposals about F-35 funding. It's a fluid process that we expect to be worked out. But what we will end up with, we don't know."
Defense budget watchdog Christopher Hellman praised the Senate committee vote.
"This is one of those rare examples where they are proceeding cautiously," said Hellman, who directs the Project on Military Spending Oversight.

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