As the clock winds down towards Monday's scheduled Defense Acquisition Board meeting on tactical aircraft plans, the Washington spin machine has gone berserk.
Yesterday, the usually conservative Air Force Magazine daily roundup joined the flock of vultures lazily circling above the F-35B short take off, vertical landing version of the jet, reporting:
The Pentagon is contemplating terminating production of the F-35B... Pentagon officials note that the increasing accuracy of tactical ballistic missiles in the hands of potential adversaries makes it increasingly less likely that the Marines can use the STOVL model as they’ve envisioned: either from amphibious ships right offshore or just behind the battle lines, to provide quick close air support. Such locations would all be in range of those missiles.
Later in the day came a retaliation strike from Lockheed Martin consultant Loren Thompson:
The Navy has made its latest run against the Marine Corps version of the F-35 joint strike fighter, and for something like the twentieth time, it has been rebuffed...
So now rumors that the Marine variant is in trouble have surfaced once again, and as is often the case, by the time word started getting around the issue had already been resolved. The plane is safe for the fiscal 2012 budget request, because there is no other option for replacing Harriers in the vital role of providing firepower and protection to forward-deployed Marines.
This all sounds very decisive, but let's tick the problems off. Paid company consultant, check. No source, check. Also, few reports have actually suggested that the F-35B will be killed outright on Monday, which would preempt a parallel process of defining Marine force structure. What has been reported is that the DAB may delay it, while termination is being considered as an option elsewhere.
So what Dr Thompson is doing is the old game of defining expectations. If the DAB does not kill the F-35B he can claim to have been right.
That would be a breakthrough, because in the past year or so, Thompson told us that the Joint Estimating team estimates "are wrong." His October 2009 piece added that Secretary Gates had "warned the contractor to stay on cost and on schedule, which is what the record shows is happening."
On March 4, he stated that
"The simple truth is that F-35 is performing remarkably well in both ground and flight tests -- which is why the Marine Corps and Navy told Congress last week that they still expect their versions of the plane to become operational in 2012 and 2014."
A week later, development testing was stretched by 13 months and Navy IOC went to 2016.
Not to be deterred, Thompson was back at the keyboard the next day, stating, among other things, that "The production plan is only running six months late, and that lag will continue shrinking." Not so far it hasn't: all 12 SDD jets were due to be at government test centers by September, and so far, four of them have not even flown; and AF-6 and AF-7, which were due at Eglin in August, will now go to Edwards in April 2011.
Maybe the good Doctor should take the advice of a renowned veteran among DC defense sources:
Now, this morning, Air Force Magazine is reporting that the once-taboo subject of restarting F-22 production is surfacing as a "what-if" option in USAF briefings.
And to add insult to injury, you remember that False Claims Act suit filed against Lockheed Martin by an F-35 software engineer, that was tossed out of court in October? The judge just changed his mind.