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  • Thus Spoke Carter: Notes from his Roundtable
    Posted by Amy Butler 7:16 PM on Nov 23, 2009

    Pentagon acquisition czar Ashton Carter shed some light today on some of the options he is considering for restructuring the $300 billion U.S.-led Joint Strike Fighter program.

    A Joint Estimate Team (JET), made up of career cost and program evaluators at the Pentagon, has projected the Lockheed Martin JSF could be as much as $16 billion over budget and years late in meeting its in-service dates.

    *Option 1 - Add more test aircraft to the program, which has 12 now planned, to burn test points in a "compressed" period of time to maintain schedule. Schedule is critical to keeping the international partners on board, but more flight test assets will cost more upfront.

    *Option 2 (not to be considered an either/or, this could be combined with option 1) -- add more software teams to the program, including an additional shift. Carter describes this as essentially blocking and tackling with the software load.

    Carter also noted the cost growth in the Pratt & Whitney engine is a problem item, but offered no specific actions to address it in the press roundtable.

    These fixes all amount to more money up-front for the program. Carter signaled the Pentagon is willing to provide more upfront funding to shore up testing and stay on schedule.

    However, he was not so subtle about saying Lockheed would be expected to share in the additional cost to the program. The Pentagon doesn't "want to be in a situation where the government bears the cost of schedule slips all by itself," Carter said. "It is reasonable that risk in a program be shared."

    Carter met with Lockheed's CEO and CFO on Sunday, Nov. 22, on the issue and he said the meetings were "professional" and "productive."

    While it seems the department is willing to take the leap of faith that more flying test aircraft will maintain the schedule (or at least diminish the amount of delay) and shore up the program in the long term, the Pentagon has less faith in the value of fudging a second JSF engine.

    Financial justification for the second JSF engine calls for further spending on R&D and procurement that would later reap benefits by driving cost down through competition in the future. Carter says he has seen no analysis that indicates these savings are likely. He further adds that the investment in the GE/Rolls engine has been "disruptive to the Joint Strike Fighter program" because it has come out of the program's top-line.

    Fiscal 2011 funding decisions -- including the possibility of adding more test aircraft and software engineers -- need to be made in the next "couple of weeks," Carter says, as the Pentagon closes out its major issues for the budget submission to Congress in early February.

    TANKER: Carter would neither validate nor abandon the goal of completing a final bid for the KC-X aerial refueling tanker program by the end of the month. Of paramount interest is sorting through the questions from contractors and Congress on the source-selection process.

    He says the draft RFP, released in September, was intentionally "less subjective" than the one that governed the 2007-08 competition. Though he said the Pentagon is willing to tweak the draft (per comments and questions from interested parties), he says he wants to "preserve the attribution of clarity" in it as a final request-for-proposal is crafted.

    Though he acknowledges a less-than-stellar track record in the department's attempts to buy a KC-135 replacement, Carter says one benefit of the experience is that "we do know very well what the warfighter wants," and that is reflected in the 373 pass/fail requirements listed for the competition. "We have a learning curve, and we are able to be more specific," he says.

    VXX: Carter says he hopes to reinitiate the acquisition process to buy a new presidential helo next spring. He says the Pentagon is continually working with the White House on its priorities for the Marine One helicopter replacement. Pentagon officials have narrowed down to 17 the number of "solutions" for known requirements. This is down from 48 options, and it includes various scenarios, such as a mixed fleet of helicopters for presidential transport.

    Carter reiterates that he'd like to build off an existing helicopter design rather than design a solution to specification.

    IED Task Force: Carter says he and Lt. Gen. John "Jay" Paxton, joint staff ops director, are in the initial phases of the intensive six-month anti-IED task force role outlined this month by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Several entities in the the department have been working the IED problem since it became a lethal tactic used by insurgents in Iraq. Carter says he does not intend a new layer of oversight, but that he wants to "make the whole better than the sum of the parts" of all the various anti-IED programs at the Pentagon.

    Carter says the first report on the IED issue will go to Gates before Dec. 25, and Carter and Paxton are expecting to travel to Afghanistan to collect information on for their project prior to that report being issued.

    Tags: ar99 carter jsf tanker vxx ied

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