Vice Adm. David Venlet, the Pentagon's F-35 program executive officer, and Larry Lawson, Lockheed Martin's F-35 vice president, are returning from a Nov. 11 Joint Executive Steering Board meeting with the eight JSF partner nations in Rome.
The meeting, the first of its sort for Venlet since taking office, comes just after a White House-chartered deficit reduction commission proposed sharply curtailing U.S. orders for the single-engine Lockheed Martin aircraft. A defense official said the F-35 proposals “surprised all of us,” but noted that the proposal is preliminary and not yet actionable.
But, this bombshell and the forthcoming -- and highly anticipated -- technical baseline review (TBR), which will establish a new schedule and cost, were perhaps the gorillas in the room, as they were not on the formal agenda for the meetings, according to a defense official.
Venlet was unable to brief the TBR because it has not yet been approved by the Pentagon. And, a forthcoming life-cycle cost also has yet to receive the official blessing from senior Defense Department officials. However, both items are expected to potentially send shockwaves through the eight partner nations, as further price increases and delivery delays are expected.
International partners were expected to have their first deliveries in 2014 of the CTOL aircraft; that, however, is likely to change based on the new program baseline.
The Joint Executive Steering Board meeting took place only a day after the co-chairman of the White House deficit reduction commission suggested terminating the short-takeoff-and-landing (Stovl) F-35B and halving U.S. orders for the F-35A/C (carrier versions) through 2015. The commission’s co-chairs estimate the B termination will save $41 billion, including $17.6 billion through 2015. Halving the A/C buy and supplementing the purchase with F-16s and F/A-18E/Fs would save $9.5 billion through 2015, they add.
This was the first official foreign trip of this sort on F-35 by its new program manager, Vice Adm. David Venlet. He opted to break with past tradition and not attend this year’s Farnborough Air Show outside of London in order to manage the massive TBR, which will outline a new price and schedule for the tri-variant, stealthy fighter program. That review will be briefed to Pentagon acquisition czar Ashton Carter Nov. 22.
During the meeting with the eight partner nations in Rome, among the top two agenda items was a discussion about the recent Pentagon decision to divert the first two production conventional-takeoff-and-landing (CTOL) F-35As from the training location at Eglin AFB, Fla., to Edwards AFB, Calif., to support the testing program. The goal of that shift its to boost the pace of flight trials, the defense official says.
Also, the partners discussed questions about the global sustainment framework for the aircraft.
The senior-level Executive Steering Board session was preceded Nov. 10 by a meeting of action officers on the program, the defense official says.
The White House commission hasn’t yet voted on the $4 trillion package of deficit reduction measures. Congress is unlikely to conduct an up or down vote on this, although many of the individual ideas are receiving attention.