Yet again, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced a budget that prioritizes national security needs over parochial interests. Like last year, Gates is asking Congress to terminate the C-17 program and the alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) — and this time he said he'll recommend that the President veto any legislation that would further either of these programs.
Time will tell whether Congress will heed his call to restore discipline to defense, though we have to admit we're not optimistic. But the real news is that Secretary Gates is attempting to increase accountability in the recently restructured JSF program by withholding $614 million in performance fees from Lockheed Martin and firing program manager U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David Heinz (the new leadership will be announced in the coming days). From the Secretary's speech:
Fundamentally reforming acquisitions, above all, calls on us to foster a culture and practice of accountability. Accountability with regard to industry, and within the walls of this building as well. This is especially important when dealing with our most costly and critically important programs – programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
But even with these changes, Gates admitted, he's not sure if the JSF program can avoid a Nunn-McCurdy cost breach that would require the Department to recertify the program and possibly restructure the program again. Lockheed Martin has reassured outlets like the New York Times that their computerized simulations could save time and help get the program back on schedule. But the Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation's 2009 annual report calls that claim into question, noting that "flight test results, not modeling and simulation" will determine if the program meets its deadlines and the capability the contractor will deliver.
-- Mandy Smithberger
In case you missed it, earlier today we posted Portions of the Pentagon's Department of Operational Test and Evaluation 2009 Annual Report