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Panetta Downplays Conflict With Lockheed Over F-35 Buy

Sep. 27, 2012 - 05:38PM   |  
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, left, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrive for a press conference at the Pentagon on Sept. 27.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, left, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrive for a press conference at the Pentagon on Sept. 27. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has taken a more measured view of the ongoing negotiations between the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin for a batch of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

After the deputy program manager called the relationship between DoD and Lockheed “the worst I have ever seen,” Panetta took a step back.

“I don’t know that I would portray it in those terms,” Panetta said at a Sept. 27 briefing at the Pentagon. “These are difficult negotiations, as they always are when you’re dealing with the amount of money and the complexity that’s involved with the Joint Strike Fighter.”

Last week, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter threw his support behind Air Force Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, who on Sept. 17 lashed out at Lockheed for failing to ink a deal with the Pentagon for 32 F-35 aircraft after nearly a year of negotiations.

Carter said he was “100 percent” behind Bogdan, who has been nominated to lead the nearly $400 billion program.

Asked if he shared Bogdan’s assessment that the relationship between the Pentagon and Lockheed was “the worst I have ever seen,” Panetta disagreed.

“I don’t share it, number one, because … I don’t know the history of just how much has gone on in the past,” Panetta said. “But at least from what I have seen at this point, my view of it is these are very tough negotiations, but they aren’t a reflection that either side has given up or thinks that the other side, you know, is in a more difficult state at all.”

Still, he believes the two sides will be able to lock in a deal for the jets. Panetta also threw his support behind the F-35 program.

“We’ll get through this,” he said.

Let’s Make a Deal

Panetta is less than thrilled that Congress has left Washington until after the November congressional and presidential elections. With lawmakers nowhere in sight, there is no chance of a deal to avoid the initial round of $500 billion in defense spending cuts over the next decade. These cuts are slated to begin in January.

Last week, Carter suggested a delay to the beginning of sequestration might help DoD.

“A delay is better than having it,” Carter said on Sept 20. “If a delay leads to ultimately dispelling this cloud that’s all the better.”

Asked about that today, Panetta was direct.

“I’ll take whatever the hell deal they can make right now to deal with sequestration,” he said. “The problem now is that they’ve left town and all of this has now been put off into the lame duck session.”

Panetta echoed previous comments about the sequestration cuts and said it is hurting the Pentagon’s ability to plan for the future.

“We need stability,” he said. “You want a strong national defense for this country? I need to have some stability. And that’s what I’m asking the Congress to do: Give me some stability with regards to the funding of the Defense Department for the future.”

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