Welsh Excited About F-35, but Still Has Concerns

While the F-35 strike fighter remains a cornerstone of the Air Force’s modernization portfolio, the program’s cost and development timeline remain points of concern, Air Force Chief of Staff nominee Gen. Mark Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 19. “Our manufacturing process, our assembly line, is not up to speed running to the level we’d hope it would be at this point in time, which means we have not been able to build and deliver jets on schedule or on an accurately predicted cost,” he said. Absent the ability to “clearly identify” the cost to procure and operate the jets, “then we really have no idea how many airplanes we can afford,” he added. Welsh said if confirmed as CSAF, staying focused on controlling cost and keeping pressure on the F-35 contractor to perform as promised “would be a daily event” for him. Despite the concerns, Welsh said he’s “excited” about the F-35 because “the nation needs it.” Plus, “there’s some good things happening” with the F-35 test program and “production schedules are starting to meet the expected windows now,” he said. (Welsh’s responses to advance questions)