How to Slow Down Lightning

Lawmaker wishes to separate the F-35’s Block IV upgrade program from the rest of the project—stated in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act—won’t slow things down, but it will add a lot of cost, Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall said. “It’s a misperception” that making the Block IV a Major Defense Acquisition Program will add delay, but it will add overhead costs, an abundance of new documentation, and “distracts people from managing the program,” said Kendall during a late Tuesday conference call with reporters after an F-35 CEO meeting in Phoenix, Ariz. Such a move would only make the jet more expensive, he said. Kendall also expressed his bafflement by the NDAA language calling for abolition of the F-35 System Program Office in 2019, after the full-rate production decision, and handing its management to the separate services afterwards. “If the JPO is abolished … that would affect coordination with industry partners,” partner nations, and foreign military sales purchasers of the aircraft, he asserted. The F-35 is so complex that “it demands a central organization … and oversight,” he said, noting that the Pentagon is “preparing a formal response” to this language. He also said the SPO is “sized appropriately” and is neither in need of expansion nor deep cuts.