The new defense bill provides money for 79 F-35s with Pratt & Whitney engines. Lockheed Martin photo
The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter
The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Lockheed Martin photo

Washington – Sen. John McCain on Tuesday blasted the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin for a seven-month delay in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program that will cost the Pentagon an additional $500 million.

“With this latest delay, I am deeply concerned about the (Defense Department’s) current plan for Follow-On Modernization,” McCain said. “If the department continues to repeat the mistakes of the past, more delays, more cost overruns, and increased retrofit costs will be the inevitable result.”

McCain, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also said he is “disappointed the DOD chose to downplay the cost of this delay.”

“Given the challenges this program continues to face, it’s likely that the true cost could be more than twice the $500 million projection – draining the department of critical funding it needs to train, prepare, and equip our military,” McCain said.

Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall informed McCain that developmental test flights for the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 fighter could be pushed back to May of 2018 from original plans to complete the System Development and Demonstration phase in October of 2017.

Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford makes the engine that powers the Joint Strike Fighter.

“The F-35’s dismal record on cost, schedule, and performance is a predicable consequence of a broken defense acquisition system,” McCain said.

President-elect Donald Trump also has criticized the program’s delays and cost overruns.

McCain also wrote Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson that said he was having trouble reconciling the costly delay with Hewson’s promise to Trump in a Dec. 21 meeting that she was personally committed “to drive down costs aggressively.”

“If Lockheed Martin Corporation has new initiatives that are ‘ready to deliver,’ to reduce the F-35 program costs, I expect you to detail such costs for achieving this objective to the committee as soon as possible,” McCain wrote.

In a statement, Lockheed Martin said, “We are are fully committed to delivering the best capability possible at the best value for the American taxpayer.”

“The price of an F-35A has come down 60 percent from the first lot contract to the recent ninth contract, and we fully expect the next contract will show another significant price decrease,” the company said

Lockheed Martin also said it is working to reduce the cost of the program by $5 billion through 2022.

“The F-35 Joint Program Office did recently state it may need to extend the threshold date for the end of the System Design and Development (SDD) program by three months, however this will not affect any upcoming IOC dates or production ramp up,” Lockheed Martin said. “We are absolutely confident, in conjunction with our industry partners, that we will deliver the full combat capability of the F-35 to the war fighter at the completion of the SDD program.”

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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