Lockheed and Pratt responded to Bogdan’s salvo by saying that they had already reduced costs sharply, and were taking on high levels of risk.
“His word choice was ironic, since that’s what the companies think he’s doing to them,” said one executive familiar with the contract talks, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
“Bogdan’s commitment to running the program is sincere, but he’s acting like a bull in a china shop,” agreed one U.S. government official who was not authorized to speak publicly. “Orders from some of the partner nations are already tenuous, so those kind of comments are just not helpful.”
The general’s blunt language, coupled with escalating U.S. budget woes and a steady trickle of vexing technical challenges, could make it even harder for military officials in Australia and Canada to stick with the huge fighter development program that they helped finance, said the government official.
Both countries are rethinking their plans to buy dozens of F-35s; Italy has already slashed its purchase by 30 percent and may see further cuts, and Turkey and the Netherlands may soon reduce their orders as well.
Australia’s conservative opposition, which is likely to win elections in September, supports the F-35, but delays in the program mean Australia will likely buy more F/A-18 fighters in coming years at the expense of F-35 orders.
Aboulafia said the negative comments could also affect a 60-plane South Korean competition that pits Lockheed’s F-35 against a modified Boeing Co F-15 fighter and Europe’s Eurofighter Typhoon.
“South Korea should have been a slam dunk; now it’s a horse race,” he said, noting that the F-35’s rising cost made the F-15 look like a “pretty good deal” for Seoul, which had long been expected to follow Japan’s lead in ordering F-35 planes.
South Korea’s defense acquisition agency plans to announce a winner in the 8.3 trillion Korean won ($7.65 billion) competition in the first half of the year, but a spokesman said it was too early to predict the outcome.