F-35 program chief rips defense firms

Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan slams Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney for not working to cut costs and assume risk in the F-35 program.

The head of the Joint Strike Fighter program has once again publicly ripped the defense companies chosen to build the fifth generation fighter that happens to be the most expensive military weapons program in U.S. history.

Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program chief, scolded Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney at the Australian International Airshow for not properly partnering with the U.S. military and failing to “invest in cost reductions” that would prove to him that the companies hope to build the F-35 for the next 40 years.

“What I see Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney doing today is behaving as if they are getting ready to sell me the very last F-35 and the very last engine and are trying to squeeze every nickel out of that last F-35 and that last engine,” Bogdan said Tuesday according to a Reuters report.

Bogdan’s comments come just days after the U.S. military grounded their three versions of the F-35. Military leaders chose to ground the fleet on Feb. 22 after a crack was discovered in the one of the engine’s turbine blades. A Pentagon official said Tuesday the military has yet to set a timeline for when the F-35 will resume flying.

Lockheed Martin is the primary defense contractor on the F-35 program. Pratt & Whitney is the sole supplier of engines for the F-35 following a controversial decision by the military to only have one defense company build the F-35’s engine.

Bogdan, who took over the program in 2012, said he’s concerned about the manner in which the two defense firms have treated the program.

“I want them both to start behaving like they want to be around for 40 years,” Bogdan said. “I want them to take on some of the risk of this program, I want them to invest in cost reductions, I want them to do the things that will build a better relationship. I’m not getting all that love yet.

This is not the first time Bogdan has publicly slammed Lockheed Martin over it’s handling of the F-35 program. Days before he took over the program, Bogdan called the relationship between Lockheed Martin and the U.S. military on the F-35 “the worst I’ve ever seen.”

“I haven’t made any determination if there’s anybody wrong yet, but what I can tell you is my position is we have to fundamentally change the way we do day to day business with Lockheed Martin. And if there’s anybody not on the bus for that ride, we have to have a conversation,” Bogdan said last September 2012 at the Air Force Association’s annual conference.

Bogdan was chosen to lead the F-35 program to get it back on track. He is noted for salvaging the Air Force’s tanker program and landing the fixed-price contract for the program.

When asked in Australia on Tuesday if Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney had made progress since his AFA comments, he noted a small amount of improvement.

“Are they getting better? A little bit.” Bogdan told reporters. “Are they getting better at a rate I want to see them getting better? No, not yet.”

Bogdan also questioned a Reuters report that the F-35 problem was minor and the fifth generation fighters would return to the air next week. Reuters cited two Pratt & Whitney sources for the article who said they were 99 percent sure the engine problem was minor. Pratty & Whitney engineers are working on the F-35 with the cracked turbine blade in a Connecticut hanger.

“Until all those tests are done and I see the results, I don’t know what’s going,” Bogdan said. “My gut would tell me it’s on the spectrum on the minor side — 99 percent is bold, flying next week is bold.”

The U.S. military plans to buy 2,443 F-35s in the $396 billion program. Bogdan was in Australia to help convince the Australians to stay in the F-35 program and buy the 100 F-35s they had promised at the onset of the program.

Losing Australia would lead to additional price hikes in a program that has seen the price estimates sky rockets and the deadlines fall further behind.