June 06, 2013
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and its lone engine easily survived a last-minute assault in the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) as the panel marked up its version of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill June 5.
In one of the first contentious debates of the Republican-controlled committee’s day-long markup, Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) proffered an amendment that would prohibit new U.S. spending on the Lockheed Martin fighter and its Pratt & Whitney F135 engine until a month after the Pentagon certifies all flight testing for the 2B mission software is complete, as well as testing for helmet avionics and lightning-protection systems, and contracts for Lots 6 and 7 low-rate, initial production (LRIP) have been definitized. The committee voted down the effort 51-10.
“I want contractors held accountable and I want them to fix technical details,” Duckworth said. But other members of the committee, including Democrats, warned that the amendment would stop acquisition of the JSF, leading to greater costs later, as well as potentially angering the eight allied countries also buying versions of the so-called fifth-generation strike fighter.
Last week, the U.S. Air Force, by far the largest presumed user of the F-35, agreed to declare initial operational capability (IOC) by December 2016 with the 2B system, a much more limited software and weapons capability than initially planned (Aerospace DAILY, June 3).
While establishing a benchmark, the IOC plans also put pressure on Lockheed Martin to make good on its software testing plans.
Meanwhile, Pratt & Whitney agreed to assume 100% of the risk of any cost overrun for its latest F135 contract, worth $1 billion, under LRIP 5. Negotiations over LRIP 6 continue.
Aides for HASC Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said this week that the chairman’s version of the bill, which Duckworth was trying to amend, already provides additional oversight on the JSF program. “The mark requires an independent assessment of JSF software programs, as well as a lifecycle sustainment plan,” they said. The issue, however, could come up again as the HASC bill moves to the House floor for consideration and then has to be compromised with whatever the Senate provides in a competing bill.
Meanwhile, members at the markup unanimously agreed to an amendment to raise the cost caps on the CVN-78 Ford-class aircraft carrier program. The provision from seapower subcommittee leaders, which came as part of a package of amendments unanimously agreed to by the full committee, would raise the current cap on the namesake carrier to $12.89 billion and restrict following carriers in the class to $11.41 billion, as well as allow the Navy to adjust for inflation in the future.