By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON Dec 6 Air Force Lieutenant General
Christopher Bogdan assumed control of the Pentagon's F-35 jet
fighter program on Thursday, saying he believes the program is
well-positioned for the future after hard work by his
predecessor to put it on a "firmer, more realistic" footing.
Bogdan replaces U.S. Navy Vice Admiral David Venlet, who is
retiring after 36 years in the Navy and more than two years
running the $396 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the
Pentagon's biggest weapons program, which is built by Lockheed
At a Pentagon ceremony, Bogdan said Venlet and his team had
helped ensure the long-term survival of what he described as
"the most complex program in history."
"Not only did they right the ship and deliver the first
aircraft to an operational squadron, but we are now very
well-positioned for the future," he said, according to a
statement prepared by the Pentagon.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter presided over the
ceremony, which was attended by 150 people, including Marine
Corps Commandant General James Amos, Chief of Naval Operations
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley
and his chief of staff General Mark Welsh, as well top
executives from companies involved in the F-35 program.
After a year of often tense negotiations, the Pentagon last
week reached a deal with Lockheed to buy a fifth batch of 32
additional F-35 fighters, a deal valued at $3.8 billion.
The two sides hope to finalize the terms of that
agreement before the end of the year.
Separately on Thursday, the Pentagon announced it had
awarded Lockheed a contract modification valued at $387 million
for continued sustainment work on the F-35 aircraft already
delivered to the U.S. military, including ground maintenance
systems and a computerized logistics system.
Lockheed also hopes to secure some additional funding for
early production work on a sixth batch of F-35 planes, which the
company and its suppliers have been funding on their own.
The Pentagon is negotiating a separate agreement with engine
maker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp
, to supply engines for that fifth batch of planes.
Jay DeFrank, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, said those
discussions were going well, but declined to project when an
agreement might be reached.
The program has reached other milestones in recent months,
including surpassing 5,000 flight hours and creation of the
first operational squadron of F-35s at a Marine Corps air base
On Wednesday, the Navy said the Marine Corps version of the
plane - the F-35B - had test dropped a GBU-12 Paveway II
laser-guided bomb, the second successful weapons drop for the B
model and the fourth for the program overall.
The Air Force is also poised to approve the start of full
training efforts at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, after
completion of an operational utility evaluation last month. The
decision could be announced soon, an Air Force spokesman said.
Lockheed is developing three different variants of the F-35
for the U.S. military and eight countries that are helping fund
the development: Britain, Italy, Turkey, Norway, Australia,
Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands. Together, these countries
plan to buy more than 3,100 fighters in coming decades.
Israel and Japan have also ordered the new fighter jet while
South Korea is weighing competing bids from Lockheed's F-35 and
Boeing Co's F-15 fighter.