WASHINGTON: The Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter is the biggest conventional weapons program in history and Vice Adm. David Venlet has run it to much acclaim and quite a bit of backbiting, depending on who you talk with.
This afternoon the Pentagon very quietly sent out notice that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had nominated Venlet’s deputy, Air Force Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan for a third star and assignment as director of the F-35 program.
One Capitol Hill aide offered this vigorous praise for his deputy: “Bogdan is outstanding. He was the former program manager for KC-46 tanker. He’s on par with Venlet [for] holding contractors accountable; just ask Boeing. He’ll do well in that job and will continue where Venlet left off.”
Defense consultant and member of the Aol Defense Board of Contributors Loren Thompson noted that “Major General Bogdan is the acquisition star who finally got the Air Force’s KC-46 tanker under contract. His ability to fix that effort bodes well for the F-35 program.”
Also, the selection of an Air Force general makes all the sense, Thompson said. “The Air Force variant of F-35 accounts for 70 percent of the domestic production run and 90 percent of the foreign orders, so having an airman in charge makes sense. Admiral Venlet has done a competent job of running the F-35 shop, but his service, the Navy, is planning the smallest buy and seldom seems as supportive of the program as the Air Force and Marine Corps.”
I did hear from one source over the last two weeks that Panetta was unhappy with Venlet and would be pushing him out soon, but it’s hard to tell if this person knew about the pending nomination and piggybacked his opinion on Bogdan’s promotion. We know with certainty that Bogdan has got some strong support on Capitol Hill.
And it may well be that the nomination was made now because the Senate is gone for the next five weeks and there are very few — if any — legislative days likely in October. So the administration may well have done some intelligence planning and made the nomination now for reasons no more sinister than that.