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U.S. government procurement officials issued a “much improved” school report card on the management of the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter program. Speaking to reporters after the annual conference of customer chief executives in Fort Worth, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s under-secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said there was “a remarkable change of tone” at the meeting compared with the one he attended a year ago. Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the F-35 program executive officer, noted that both Lockheed Martin and engine maker Pratt & Whitney had made management changes in the meantime. “My [critical] comments were heard…the working relationship is improving…I’m encouraged,” he said.
Kendall reported that the F-35 flight-test program is 40 percent complete, and although a lot of software development remains to be done, he is cautiously optimistic about increasing the production rate, which has been held at 30 aircraft per year “to stabilize the program.” Any ramp up will be decided in the fall, and is contingent on a successful outcome to the current negotiations with Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney on lots six and seven. Those talks are going well, the procurement officials said, after the contractors agreed to the government’s “should cost” figures that were the basis for the eventual deal on Lot Five.
The focus is now on sustainment, Kendall said. “We’re attacking the life-cycle costs [LCC] and looking hard at bringing in competition,” he added. The international partners would be receiving better data on LCCs, taking account of the different ways that each intends to operate its fleet of F-35s. Kendall said that the cost per flying hour that has been quoted is a problematic metric: “it depends on the assumptions,” he said. However, that cost is coming down, based on early operational experience in the U.S. Marine Corps.