F-35 fighter transforming defense industry says retiring chief

Tue Mar 26, 2013 11:19pm EDT
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON, March 26 (Reuters) - The retiring chief of the trouble-plagued F-35 Joint Strike Fighter says he remains bullish about the hi-tech war plane, with costs soon to be further reduced as production takes off, and believes the program will transform the aerospace industry.

Tom Burbage, a former Navy test pilot and general manager of the F-35 program since its inception 12 years ago, said the $396 billion weapons program, which will create a supersonic, single-engine fighter jet for use by the United States and its allies, still made strategic sense.

Mounting budget pressures and escalating threats made the coalition and joint-service warfare of the F-35 fighter more important than ever, Burbage, a top executive with manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp, said on Tuesday.

"The value proposition as it was stated then is even more important today," he told reporters.

The F-35's development has been hit by a spate of technical setbacks, is 70 percent over initial cost estimates, been restructured three times, and is now years behind schedule.

As a result, the United States has postponed some orders of F-35s and other nations are re-considering their plans.

Some U.S. officials are worried that any further reductions in orders by the U.S. military or allies overseas could trigger a classic death spiral in which rising costs spark reductions in orders, which in turn trigger further cost increases and so on.

Burbage, who will retire in March, said the company would soon be producing larger numbers of F-35s than any other military aircraft in recent history, which would help drive costs down further.   Continued...