In Federal Budget Cutting, F-35 Fighter Jet Is at Risk – NYTimes.com
On an October day last year, with Lt. Col. Fred Schenk at the controls, the plane glided toward a ship off the Atlantic coast and then, its engine rotating straight down, descended gently to the deck at seven feet a second.
There were cheers from the ship’s crew members, who “were all shaking my hands and smiling,” Colonel Schenk recalled.
The smooth landing helped save that model and breathed new life into the huge F-35 program, the most expensive weapons system in military history. But while Pentagon officials now say that the program is making progress, it begins its 12th year in development years behind schedule, troubled with technological flaws and facing concerns about its relatively short flight range as possible threats grow from Asia.
With a record price tag — potentially in the hundreds of billions of dollars — the jet is likely to become a target for budget cutters. Reining in military spending is on the table as President Obama and Republican leaders in Congress look for ways to avert a fiscal crisis. But no matter what kind of deal is reached in the next few weeks, military analysts expect the Pentagon budget to decline in the next decade as the war in Afghanistan ends and the military is required to do its part to reduce the federal debt.
Behind the scenes, the Pentagon and the F-35’s main contractor, Lockheed Martin, are engaged in a conflict of their own over the costs. The relationship “is the worst I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in some bad ones,” Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan of the Air Force, a top program official, said in September. “I guarantee you: we will not succeed on this if we do not get past that.”
In a battle that is being fought on other military programs as well, the Pentagon has been pushing Lockheed to cut costs much faster while the company is fighting to hold onto a profit. “Lockheed has seemed to be focused on short-term business goals,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, said this month. “And we’d like to see them focus more on execution of the program and successful delivery of the product.”