WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s top procurement official said the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is on track to significantly increase production rates in the fiscal 2015 budget.
Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said he expects to ramp up production of the fifth-generation fighter to 44 planes in 2015 and 66 in 2016, an increase in line with what the Pentagon has previously projected.
“Unless there is a major surprise, I think we will be able to increase production,” Kendall said, noting that there will be a major program review in the fall. “The key, of course, to getting the cost down in production is increasing the rate, so we want to do that as quickly as we can.”
Kendall was speaking on a conference call following the F-35 annual CEO meeting, which featured representatives from international partners, DoD and industry. Kendall said the international partners were positive on the program, a stark contrast to last year’s meeting.
The overall program is moving in the right direction, Kendall said, but he warned that challenges still remain.
“There’s plenty of risk left in the program, but compared to where we were two or three years ago we’ve made major advances and I’m much more comfortable where we are,” he said. “It is not, at this point and time, one of my problem programs.”
“We still have a long way to go. I don’t want to be euphoric about this. I’m encouraged by progress but there’s still a good deal of work to be done”
“While there is work to do, we’re all proud of the progress the collective government, international partner, and industry team has made since our last meeting,” Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin’s CEO and president, said in a statement released after the meeting. “Our eight nation partnership is stronger than ever, reinforced by open, transparent and collaborative communications among the team. Everyone is committed to delivering the most advanced 5th generation fighter the world has ever seen.”
Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the program manager for the F-35 who in the past has been publicly critical of Lockheed and engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, said that industry partners are now operating on the same page as the Pentagon.
“I believe our working relationship is definitely improving,” Bogdan said. “We are communicating much, much better with each other now. “
Those improved relations have carried over into the negotiations for the next US purchase of F-35s.
Although Kendall declined to give a specific timetable, he said the process of negotiating the low rate initial production-5 lot should make future negotiations much easier.
“This negotiation is going more smoothly and more quickly than lot five. Lot five was a difficult negotiation,” Kendall said. “What we did through the process of that negotiation was really come to a meeting of the minds with Lockheed on almost all the cost elements associated with F-35, based on actual performance. Once you do that, then the next negotiations become much easier. I think as a result of that, lot six and seven is going much more smoothly than lot five.”
Bogdan said he started negotiations on the block six and seven purchases “about a month ago.”
“We’ve made more progress in negotiating lots six and seven together in 30 days than we did in about 11 months last year,” Bogdan added. “So I am encouraged by what we learned on LRIP-5 and how that’s translated into making the negotiations on six and seven.”