A test flight of an F-35C is conducted in January. (Lockheed Martin)
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Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney are pushing back against criticisms leveled by Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the head of the Pentagon's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program office.
Bogdan ripped the two companies in comments he made Wednesday at a conference in Aurora, Australia.
"What I see Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney doing today is behaving as if they are getting ready to sell me the very last F-35 and the very last engine, and are trying to squeeze every nickel out of that last F-35 and that last engine," Bogdan was quoted by Reuters as saying.
"I want them both to start behaving like they want to be around for 40 years. I want them to take on some of the risk of this program, I want them to invest in cost reductions, I want them to do the things that will build a better relationship. I'm not getting all that love yet," he reportedly said.
Both companies disagreed with that characterization of their roles in the F-35, which was grounded last week after a crack was found in an engine blade.
"Lockheed Martin is fully committed to delivering the F-35's unprecedented 5th Generation capabilities to the men and women of our Armed Forces and those of our allies" Laura Siebert, Lockheed Martin spokeswoman, wrote in a statement. "We are singularly focused on properly executing the F-35 development, production and sustainment tasks laid out in our various contracts. We do this in partnership with Lt. Gen. Bogdan and the entire JSF Program Office and strive daily to drive costs out of the program.
"We believe we are making significant progress in enhancing affordability of the jet as evidenced by the fact that we have reduced costs by 50 percent since the procurement of the first production aircraft; by outperforming U.S. government pricing estimates for the past contract lot buys; and by reducing labor costs by 14 percent between the 4th and 5th lot contracts. Going forward, we are confident the Low Rate Initial Production 6 and 7 contracts, currently under negotiation, will achieve even greater savings for the government and taxpayers," according to the statement.
"Despite numerous cuts in the F-35 acquisition plan, Pratt & Whitney has maintained a long-term view and demonstrated our commitment by investing more than $50M dollars of our own funds and taking on risk ahead of contract schedule to prevent the program from experiencing delays," Matthew Bates, P&W spokesman, wrote in an email.
Bates highlighted that the engine manufacturer offered to cover cost overruns for low rate initial production Lot 5 a year ahead of what the government had requested.
"We believe it is highly unusual for a contractor to take on this level of risk at such an early stage of a program," Bates wrote. "We have also offered to assume more risk for sustainment cost through performance-based, fixed-priced provisions well ahead of plan. In addition, our investment has contributed to more than 40% of cost reduction since the delivery of our first production representative engine.
"We look forward to our continued dialogue with the Joint Program Office to further review the details of the F135 program, and to achieve alignment and further progress as the program moves ahead."
Bates also noted that the investigation into the crack continues and the company expects to have a report to the JPO "shortly."
It's not the first time Bogdan has criticized the companies' JSF performance. In September, Bogdan raised eyebrows when he called the relationship between Lockheed Martin and the JPO the "worst" he had ever seen — with a delegation of Lockheed officials sitting right in front of him.
Relations between Bogdan and the contractors seemed to warm during winter, especially in December when an agreement was finalized to purchase a fifth batch of fighters, followed quickly by a preliminary agreement on a sixth batch weeks later.
But the second major grounding of the F-35 in the last month appears to have tested Bogdan's patience. In January, the Marine Corps' F-35B variant was grounded following an engine problem during a test flight. The source of that problem was later identified as an improperly crimped line in the fueldralic system, manufactured by subcontractor Stratoflex.
Last Friday, nine days after the F-35B resumed tests, the entire F-35 fleet was grounded when a crack was discovered in one of the blades in the Pratt-designed engine.