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McCain Slams JSF, Calls Program ‘Scandal And A Tragedy;’ Contract Talks Advance

Posted by Colin Clark on

UPDATED — LRIP 5 Contract Agreement Reached
CAPITOL HILL: Sen. John McCain took to the Senate floor this afternoon to criticize Lockheed Martin’s handling of the Joint Strike Fighter program and pressed for the company “to assume an increased share of any cost overruns.”

McCain, who cited Breaking Defense’s interview last week with F-35 program head Vice Adm. David Venlet, pointed to the LRIP Lot 5 negotiations with Lockheed. “It is at this exact moment that the excessive overlap between development and production that was originally structured into the JSF program (called “concurrency”) is now coming home to roost: on the one hand, the Department — quite rightly — says that it will not sign any contract for this left lot until Lockheed Martin agrees to pay a reasonable share of these ‘concurrency costs.’ But, on the other, Lockheed Martin doesn’t want to bear the risk of new discoveries that may require retrofit or redesign of the aircraft,” the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said.

The pressure from Venlet and from lawmakers like McCain appeared to work. Late Monday afternoon the Pentagon announced that a contract agreement on LRIP 5 had been reached. No details were announced but Lockheed will have to bear more of the costs of any overruns.

McCain quoted Venlet’s observation that “it’s to wise to sort of temper production for a while here,” in the Breaking Defense story. “When the head of the most expensive, highest-profile weapon systems program in US history effectively says, ‘Hold it! We need to slow down much we are buying!’ We should all pay close attention,” McCain told his colleagues on the Senate floor.

He said Venlet’s “message last week clearly conveyed that the path we are on is neither affordable not sustainable. On that fact, he and I are in total agreement. But, that agreement provides very little solace. If things do not improve — quickly — taxpayers and the warfighter will insist that all options will be on the table. And they should be. We cannot continue on this path,” McCain said.

While killing the F-35 program is almost unthinkable to most members of Congress and senior Defense Department officials, it’s worth remembering that McCain led an effort this summer that came within a whisker of putting the program on Death Row. The Senate Armed Services Committee nearly voted to approve a measure that could result in the world’s largest program being canceled in 18 months should costs keep rising. It didn’t, but it was a tie vote in closed session. And now McCain has more information to present to his colleagues.

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