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  • Heinz Gets Canned
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 10:49 PM on Feb 01, 2010

    U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, I would guess, is a very frustrated man when it comes to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Firing the director of the massive program, Marine Maj. Gen. David Heinz, in the most public way possible is Gates' equivalent of the 18th-century Royal Navy having Admiral John Byng shot on his own quarterdeck over the loss of Minorca.

    Il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres,
    snarked Voltaire - Once in a while it's a good thing to kill an admiral, to encourage the others.

    It's not just the restructuring announced today, which adds just over a year to the test program and defers some early-production aircraft to pay for it. Nor is it the likelihood that the director of operational test and evaluation is right in calling an even longer delay a certainty (even if all goes well from here). It's not even the Nunn-McCurdy breach that - as I report in the February issue of DTI, to go online shortly - is looming up in March.

    It's not just the question of whether Gates, or Pentagon procurement chief Ashton Carter, was warned in a timely fashion when analysis showed last July - just as Gates was telling everyone that the F-35 was in good shape, and that there was no big risk in terminating the F-22 line - that the F-35C would need structural modifications to take the stress of carrier tests.

    My view is that Heinz has taken the bullet for others - notably, his predecessor USAF Maj. Gen. Charles Davis; Carter's predecessor, former DOD acquisition chief John Young; and Gates' former deputy, Gordon England, who blithely assured Gates, more than 18 months ago, that all was hunky-dory with the gigantic program and that the 2014 deadline for completing operational testing was safe. Blinkered optimism was the nicest word for that attitude then, and I don't know if you can call it that now.

    Even the current program leadership was ready to blame Davis for earlier delays, but things have not gone much better since his departure. JSF bosses are still fond of telling people that "15 out of 19 development aircraft have been delivered." Sure, but calling non-flying structural and stealth test airframes "aircraft" is pushing it, and you'd probably be annoyed at your car dealer if he told you he'd delivered your car when it was still sitting in his shop. The fact is that only three airplanes are flying, and one of those hasn't left the ground since November.

    For JSF enthusiasts, the best news today is that Gates isn't listening to those soothing palliatives any more. The SecDef didn't say who is taking over the program - but I'm not sure I envy whoever that might be.

    Tags: ar99, budget, JSF

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