Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta remains committed to the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jet, the Pentagon’s largest weapons program, even as a new internal report outlines technical problems, his spokesman said today.
“The secretary is aware of the report,” Panetta spokesman George Little told reporters today. “He believes the F-35 program is important to pursue, that it will give us capabilities we need to maintain our edge.”
The $382 billion program will produce as many as 420 of the planned 2,443 aircraft for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps while the program is still in development in the next several years.
A team of Pentagon test, systems engineering and structural experts concluded in the Nov. 29 report that “no fundamental design risks” would prevent production of the jet for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
Still, the team urged the Pentagon to possibly slow down the acquisition plan because the aircraft’s design has proven more unstable during testing than anticipated.
The report identified 13 current or likely test issues of varying severity, the combined impact of which “results in a lack of confidence” in the aircraft’s design stability. They included the Navy version’s tailhook for aircraft carrier landings, the system for dumping extra fuel before landing, excessive aircraft shaking during flight and deficiencies with the pilot’s helmet-mounted display of flight information.
“Any large program generally has issues from time to time,” Little said. “We are aware of certain issues with the F-35, but we believe it’s important to continue to investment in the program.”
The F-35 has had more retrofits and changes than planned with “the most challenging portions of flight tests ahead,” according to the 20-page report prepared for acting Pentagon weapons buyer Frank Kendall. A stable aircraft design is less likely to require numerous, potentially costly changes as test issues emerge.
The assessment, obtained by Bloomberg News, concluded that the combination of the required fixes and the lack of design confidence “supports serious reconsideration of procurement and production planning.”
The Pentagon estimates production funding will increase from the requested $6.9 billion this fiscal year to $14.2 billion in fiscal 2016. The annual aircraft buy is planned to increase to 108 aircraft in 2016 from 32 the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.
Asked if the report it being factored into budget deliberations, Little said “we obviously have to look at large programs like the F-35” yet “we believe it is important to retain the F-35 capability.”
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