By JOHN T. BENNETT
WASHINGTON — The general in charge of the F-35 told a US House panel Wednesday he sees more delays ahead — four to six months — for the often-troubled fighter jet program.
The House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee’s portion of an oversight hearing dedicated solely to the F-35 lasted only about an hour. It would have ended 20 minutes sooner if Chairman Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, had had his way, but Ranking Member Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., had additional questions.
And when other members arrived to further prolong the proceedings, Turner jokingly told Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35 program chief, he nearly “escaped.”
Sanchez pressed Bogdan about hundreds of millions in program dollars she believes might be owed to Congress, which technically has the constitutional power of the purse.
Bogdan tried to explain that the funds were used for purposes other than initially planned; Sanchez told him pointedly she would check out his story.
Otherwise, the hearing featured the usual news from an F-35 program manager: Software development is, as Bogdan put it, “really hard stuff,” and will force new delays.
This time, it will be four to six months, Bogdan told the subcommittee.
“Block 3F [software] is dependent upon the timely release of Block 2B and 3I, and at present, 3F is tracking approximately four to six months late without taking steps to mitigate that delay,” Bogdan said.
Michael Sullivan of the General Accountability Office warned the subcommittee that any new software delays will trigger delays and cost overruns across the entire program, which Pentagon officials and analysts say is the most expensive and complex in US history.
Still, Bogdan said the program more recently — meaning under his watch — has made “slow and steady progress.” He expects it will meet initial operational capability (IOC) goals for the Marine Corps and Air Force in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Those jets, he promised, will be equipped “with all the capabilities that our war fighters need.”
Bogdan admitted mistakes have been made, but pinned much of that blame on his predecessors and the program’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin.
A Lockheed spokesman had not responded at the time of publication.
In a somewhat surreal moment, Turner cast aside any semblance of oversight, telling Bogdan to let members of the subcommittee know if they can “help” convince F-35 international partners or potential foreign buyers of the single-engine stealth jet’s alleged superiority over other fighters they might buy instead.
Most of the oversight was provided by Sanchez and Sullivan.
The GAO official laid out a number of outstanding issues with the program, including the software development. He also suggested the Pentagon soon will have to find funds if it wants to hit existing benchmarks.
“To execute the program as planned, the DoD will have to increase funds steeply over the next [five] years and sustain an average of $12.6 billion per year through 2037,” Sullivan said. “For several years, funding requirements will peak around $15 billion.”