Thursday, December 08, 2011

Miller, Nelson continue to support F-35 program despite latest questions

As congressmen continue to debate the production rate of the Joint Strike Fighter, Rep. Jeff Miller says Eglin’s training mission is still on track.

“F-35 aircraft continue to arrive at Eglin Air Force Base, and with ground and simulator training preparations in place, I do not foresee any long-term effects on the health of the training mission at Eglin,” Miller said in an email Thursday night.

Sen. Bill Nelson also conveyed his strong support for the F-35 to leaders on the Armed Services and Appropriations committees, and told the Daily News he will continue to support the program.
“It’s in our country’s best interests,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s and Miller’s assurances came days after Sen. John McCain made a floor statement that he agreed with the sentiments of Vice Adm. David J. Venlet, head of the Department of Defense’s Joint Strike Fighter program, that production should slow down.

“When the head of the most expensive, highest-profile weapon systems program in U.S. history effectively says, ‘Hold it! We need to slow down how much we are buying!’ We should all pay close attention,” McCain said Monday.
Venlet told AOL Defense, an online newsletter, that the F-35 has several structural cracks that must be fixed. The issues could add an additional $3 million to $5 million to the current $133 million per-plane price tag.

“Most of them are little ones, but when you bundle them all up and package them and look at where they are in the airplane and how hard they are to get at after you buy the jet, the cost burden of that is what sucks the wind out of your lungs,” Venlet said.

McCain and Venlet agreed that the issue was “concurrency” in the production and testing of the aircraft. Despite delaying the delivery of the first aircraft by 33 months, testing and evaluation is still under way.

“In other words, the overlap between development and production is still too great to assure taxpayers that they will not have to continue paying for costly redesigns or retrofits due to discoveries made late in production,” McCain said.

The cost is expected to increase again once the DOD factors in the last two years of program changes and updates its estimate.

McCain said the final phase of testing will not likely happen before 2015.

Regardless of the completed stages of testing, Eglin’s pilots will be able to train on simulators. The aircraft at Eglin now will hit the runways after they have been certified as safe to fly.

“I think we are all in agreement that we want to make sure the F-35 is the safest it can be before flight training begins,” Miller said in the email. “However, the Aeronautical Systems Center and Joint Strike Fighter Program Office have indicated they will meet the established safety certification criteria.”

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