* U.S. civilian defense workers began furloughs on July 8
* Pentagon seeking to mitigate effect on F-35 testing
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, July 8 Flight testing of Lockheed
Martin Corp's new F-35 fighter jet will fall short of
planned totals for the year due to budget cuts that will keep
the Pentagon's civilian workers off their jobs for 11 days, a
top U.S. Navy official told Reuters on Monday.
"It's going to fall short because we're going to lose a day
a week, roughly," Sean Stackley, assistant Navy secretary for
research, development and acquisition, said in an interview.
Stackley said the Pentagon's F-35 program office was trying
to mitigate the impact of the furloughs on civilian workers of
one day each week for the rest of the fiscal year. It was not
yet clear how many overtime and weekend hours could be used to
offset other missed workdays, he said
The F-35 project, the Pentagon's biggest weapons program,
was already scrambling to make up for several weeks of flight
testing that had to be deferred due to two separate flight
grounding actions earlier this year. The U.S. military is keen
to complete flight testing of the already delayed F-35 program
so that it can begin to use the new jets for military
Civilian defense workers across the United States began
taking unpaid leave on Monday as part of an austerity plan that
is expected to save $1.8 billion through Sept. 30, the end of
the 2013 fiscal year. The furloughs are part of nearly $37
billion in automatic across-the-board budget cuts that hit the
Pentagon this year as part of a process known as sequestration
that is aimed at curbing the U.S. government's nearly
Stackley said it was not clear yet exactly what the impact
of the civilian furloughs would be on the already delayed $392
billion F-35 program, but said flight testing for the rest of
the year would likely be reduced by at least 20 percent.
"We will be doing well to contain the impact of
sequestration to a 20 percent loss of flight hours for the
balance of the year," Stackley said.
He said F-35 program officials would get a better sense of
the impact on flight testing this week since the furloughs were
just taking effect.
Other factors such as weather conditions can affect the
schedule for flight testing of new warplanes.
Lockheed is building three models of the new warplanes for
the U.S. military services and eight international partners:
Britain, Australia, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Denmark, Norway, and
the Netherlands. Israel and Japan have also ordered the jets.
Lockheed's chief financial officer, Bruce Tanner, told
Reuters in an interview in May that F-35 flight testing could be
affected, noting that civilian government workers played a big
role in supporting such tests and other critical work.