If there’s one thing the Pentagon is learning from the automatic budget cuts hitting defence spending, it’s the grim realisation that they don’t have an unlimited amount of cash to burn.
That understanding is clear with the recent remarks from Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the manager of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, who promised “housekeeping changes” within the program office, as Reuters reports:
“Mark my word: I am reorganising and I am making personnel changes,” Bogdan said after a speech at a conference hosted by Credit Suisse and defence consultant Jim McAleese.
Although Bogdan would not reveal specific changes, he seemed to reopen the feud between the Pentagon and defence contractors working on the program, telling defence News, “I plan on leaning out my program office at the same rate that I want to see Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney lean out their program offices.”
Pratt wasn’t available for comment, but Lockheed certainly didn’t take the criticism well:
“Our program office staff is properly sized for the F-35 development, production and sustainment scope for our current contracts,” Michael Rein said in an email to defence News. “We continuously examine staffing as we submit proposals in response to new or additional government requests, and we make adjustments as necessary and appropriate.”
But it’s not only the massive budget problem, which clocks in at more than $380 billion — making it the most spent on a weapons program in U.S. history. The F-35 is still suffering from a slew of issues: software problems, glitches with the helmet the pilot wears, and some stealth coatings that aren’t shielding it from radar.
The Pentagon has already spent anywhere from $55 billion to $84 billion, but estimates the final production costs closer to $400 billion, according to The Times.
The program definitely has the attention of budget cutters within the Pentagon, with some believing they can make ‘smarter cuts‘ that can do a better job than sequestration at reducing waste.
The cuts from sequestration have been characterised as ‘terrible for modernization’, according to Christine Fox, director of the Pentagon’s primary cost analysis group. Speaking in an interview with Bloomberg:
Sequestration “will force us to make very draconian changes to force structure and modernization,” Fox said. “We’ll have to do that because you can’t get all of the savings out of the categories people are talking about,” she said.
Despite this, it’s highly unlikely that the F-35 program will ever be completely dropped. A number of countries have already placed their orders, and Lockheed, the manufacturer of the aircraft, has burrowed itself into plenty of local communities — 48 states in total — in case cuts ever come up in conversation.
From the New York Times:
Lockheed has spread production over nearly every state in the union, in order to keep Congressional support high: as soon as the discussion veers toward strategic needs, Lockheed begins to stress the jobs at risk if the program were cut or canceled.
While rearranging personnel and streamlining in the office may sound good, it’s going to take much more to keep the program on track.
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