WASHINGTON Feb 2 The Pentagon will name Vice
Admiral David Venlet, commander of the Naval Air Systems
Command, to run its F-35 fighter plane program, an influential
defense analyst with knowledge of the plan, said on Tuesday.
Venlet will get the job after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert
Gates said he would restructure the program because of its poor
record, Lexington Institute analyst Loren Thompson said.
Thompson, who works for many of the largest defense
companies and has close ties with defense officials, said he
heard about the appointment from his sources within the U.S.
"Venlet certainly has all the experience and expertise
required to manage a program of this kind," Thompson said. "Not
only does he have an engineering background and experience as a
pilot, but he already manages a large organization focused on
Pentagon and Navy officials had no comment beyond remarks
made by Gates on Monday.
Venlet, a three-star admiral who oversees Navy and Marine
aviation programs, is a former Navy fighter pilot and a test
pilot. He also was a program executive officer for Navy
tactical aviation programs.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the shake-up of
the F-35 program, overseen by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N)
while announcing the Pentagon's proposed $708 billion budget
for fiscal 2011 on Monday.
Citing the program's "troubling performance record," he
said he was docking Lockheed $614 million in performance fees
and replacing the program's Pentagon manager, Marine Corps
Major General David Heinz, a two-star general, with a
"To now move forward in this program in a realistic way,
one cannot absorb the additional costs that we have in this
program and the delays without people being held accountable,"
Gates told reporters on Monday.
Gates did not name the new F-35 program manager, but
sources familiar with the program said an announcement was
Heinz drew the ire of administration officials last year
when he spoke of the advantages of maintaining competition for
the engine that will power the F-35, despite the White House's
drive to cancel an alternate engine being developed by General
Electric Co (GE.N) and Britain's Rolls-Royce (RR.L).
The main engine for the F-35, the Pentagon's largest
acquisition program, is being built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit
of United Technologies Corp (UTX.N).
Lawmakers and supporters of the GE-Rolls engine seized on
Heinz's comments to underpin their arguments to keep the
multibillion dollar program going, and prevailed in maintaining
funding in the fiscal 2010 budget.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa. Editing by Robert MacMillan)