Pentagon F-35 review next week to examine operating costs

Wed Oct 16, 2013 3:02pm EDT
 
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Pentagon officials will examine the cost of building and operating the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet at a major review of the $392 billion program next week that will also provide updates on lingering technical issues.

Kyra Hawn, spokeswoman for the Pentagon's F-35 program office, said a high-level Defense Acquisition Board meeting was expected to proceed on Monday despite the partial government shutdown. The meeting has already been postponed several times.

She said officials would get an update on how the program was meeting its cost and schedule targets, as well as progress on technical challenges including the millions of line of complex software code being written for the new fighter planes.

One key topic at the meeting will be the long-term cost of operating and "sustaining" the new fighter plane, an issue of great concern for the U.S. military and the eight partner countries that are funding its development: Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Turkey, the Netherlands and Italy.

The Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE)office is expected to present an updated projection of the cost of operating and maintaining the U.S. military's future fleet of 2,443 F-35s over 55 years.

CAPE has maintained its forecast for that cost at around $1.1 trillion for some time, but Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall has said he expects the estimate to come down.

The F-35 program office has already lowered its estimate by 20 percent to $857 billion.

"Sustainment cost will be a large topic of discussion," said Hawn, noting that it was critical to lower the longer-term costs of operating the new warplanes so it was affordable for the U.S. military and international buyers.   Continued...