Pentagon sees 'sufficient' progress to boost fiscal year 2015 F-35 output

Tue Oct 29, 2013 8:15pm EDT
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon this week said the Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N F-35 program had made sufficient improvement to plan for higher production in fiscal year 2015, but contract awards would be tied to progress on the fighter jet's software, reliability and other issues.

"Program progress is sufficient for the department to budget for an increase in the production rate in fiscal year 2015," Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, wrote in a memorandum dated October 28 and obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

"Award of higher production rates will be contingent on continued program progress," he wrote in the memo. He cited the need for progress in software development, improvements in a computer-based logistics system that is behind schedule, and resolution of several previously identified design issues.

The jet's reliability is also not growing at an acceptable rate, he said in the two-page memo.

The $392 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon's biggest arms program, has seen a 70 percent increase in costs over initial estimates and repeated schedule delays, but U.S. officials say the program has made progress in recent years.

Lockheed is developing three models of the new radar-evading warplane for the U.S. military and eight countries that helped fund its development: Britain, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Norway, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands.

"Success on the F-35 requires progress in all aspects of the program, and I am concerned that three areas in particular need additional attention: software development ... reliability growth and ALIS (Autonomic Logistics Information System)," Kendall wrote.

He said work on the final version of the software, known as 3F, was a particular concern since it was essential to achieving the desired combat capability of the F-35, and was running behind schedule.   Continued...

Workers can be seen on the moving line and forward fuselage assembly areas for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Lockheed Martin Corp's factory located in Fort Worth, Texas in this October 13, 2011 handout photo provided by Lockheed Martin. REUTERS/Lockheed Martin/Randy A. Crites/Handout