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UPDATED – Gates fights for F-35


US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has outlined the Obama Administration’s defence plans for the next five years.

February 2: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has outlined the Obama Administration’s defence plans for the next five years in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).

Top of the list for programme protection is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which underpins the US forces’ air power for the next 50 years. The 2011 budget request will ask for nearly $11 billion to buy 43 aircraft with “possibly more, depending on contractor performance”. Lockheed Martin’s problems with the development programme for F-35 are well documented, as Gates admits: “The progress and performance of the F-35 over the past two years has not been what it should – a number of key goals and benchmarks were not met. As a result, I will withhold $614 million in performance fees from the lead contractor, since the taxpayer should not have to bear the entire burden of getting the programme back on track.”

Gates also admitted changes were being made at the highest level – “Accountability is not just about holding contractors responsible. The Department of Defense (DoD) also bears responsibility for the JSF’s troubling performance record. Accordingly, I have directed a change in the leadership of the Joint Strike Fighter programme office.” AviationWeek reports that the current DoD programme manager, US Marines Major General David Heinz, will be replaced with a three-star officer. Reuters reports that the new programme manager will be Vice Admiral David Venlet, current commander of Naval Air Systems Command.

Despite Gates’ support for the F-35, it doesn’t extend as far as the F136 Alternate Engine Program, as he confirmed he would push for a veto of any bill that proposed continuation of it and the C-17, although such threats were summarily ignored by Congress in the 2010 bill approval.

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