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Now They Tell Us: JSF Two Years Behind Schedule

5:37 PM, Jul 23, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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CQ's Josh Rogin has a massive scoop that has the potential to upset administration plans to kill the F-22 after a Senate vote earlier this week seemed to seal the fate of the air supremacy fighter. According to Rogin, "An internal Pentagon oversight board has found that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is two years behind the publicly announced schedule, say multiple congressional aides familiar with the findings." Why is that important? Because "as Congress has debated the future of the F-22 fighter program, lawmakers have used the promise of the F-35 plane's completion as a key plank in their argument that the F-22 line could be ended without a significant risk to national security."

One defense expert emails in response to the revelations, "Gates and company get caught hiding the ball once again. Just another piece of evidence suggesting the decision to end the F-22's production was driven not by analysis and study but simply a desire to cut the budget."

Indeed, it's clear the Pentagon sat on a report that undermined the administration's case for killing the F-22 until after a key Senate vote. "Now, senators and aides are lamenting that the Pentagon oversight panel's more pessimistic view on the F-35 program was not publicly released during the F-22 debate and are calling for more open disclosure of the problems with the development of the F-35," Rogin reports.

Assuming there are no further problems in production -- an absurd assumption -- "The oversight panel's calculations determined that the fighter won't be able to move out of the development phase and into full production mode until 2016, rather than 2014 as the program office has said." Of course, the JSF program has already faced major delays and according to this Pentagon report, the additional two year delay "could cost as much as $7.4 billion."

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell denies there's been any cover-up, but as CQ points out, the Joint Estimate Team's findings are at odds with statements from administration officials and members of Congress who had lobbied for killing F-22 as a redundant with so much already being spent on F-35.

Administration officials and senators repeatedly touted the F-35 program as the best bet to preserve U.S. air power superiority and as a primary reason that the F-22 program should be capped at 187 planes, as the Senate voted 58-40 to do on July 21.

"If properly supported, the F-35 will be the backbone of America's tactical aviation fleet for decades to come," said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in a July 16 speech at the Economic Club of Chicago, "if - and it's a big if - money is not drained away to spend on other aircraft."

Experts said Gates' tough rhetoric on the F-22 and his determined efforts to pressure senators to support the administration's plan to end F-22 production would have been hurt had the Joint Estimate Team's findings been widely known.

"If this information had been part of the debate over the last couple of months, several Democrats, many of whom switched their votes at the last minute, would have been much harder to persuade," said Tom Donnelly, director of defense studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

The kicker: Rogin reports that the F-35 program is such a mess that John Murtha has reduced the administration's request for F-35 procurement funding by $530 million. The quote from Murtha, "This is a cut because we think they just can't spend the money [they requested]...They've got to do a better job of oversight." When John Murtha tells you you're wasting money and doing a lousy job of oversight, you've got real problems.

It's now clear that the Obama administration suppressed information that might have affected a Senate vote on a key national security program. It's a breach of the public trust, and it's evidence that this president is putting ideology ahead of national security. They were determined to kill F-22 come hell or high water. And they did. But it might not be too late to bring F-22 back from the dead.

And just for good measure, Aviation Week quotes "a senior U.S. Air Force intelligence officer":

"The F-35 [Joint Strike Fighter] is not an F-22 by a long shot," he says. "There's no way it's going to penetrate Chinese Air Defenses if there's ever a clash."