WASHINGTON Dec 5 Air Force Lieutenant General
Christopher Bogdan jolted many when after just five weeks on the
$396 billion F-35 fighter jet program, he said ties between
Lockheed Martin Corp and the U.S. government were the
"worst" he had ever seen.
Three months later, Bogdan's trademark straight talk and
insistence on accountability seem to be paying off.
After a year of often tense negotiations, the Pentagon last
week reached a deal with Lockheed to buy 32 more F-35 fighters.
The jets already produced just exceeded 5,000 flight hours and
the Air Force is poised to approve the start of full training
efforts at a Florida air base.
The agreement is worth $3.8 billion to Lockheed, but it also
marks what many experts see as a new era for the F-35, the
Pentagon's biggest weapons program, which is finally delivering
results after three major restructurings in recent years.
Pentagon officials strongly back the restructured program,
but its massive size means it will remain a possible target amid
mounting U.S. budget pressures.
Maintaining funding for the program may be the biggest
challenge for Bogdan, a former B-2 bomber test pilot and
long-time acquisition expert who moves up from being the deputy
director of the F-35 program to the top job on Thursday.
He received his third star last Friday, the same day the
Pentagon announced its deal with Lockheed. Bogdan will succeed
Navy Vice Admiral David Venlet, who is retiring.
While his blunt talk may have shocked some, it may have been
just what the government and Lockheed needed to kick-start the
stalled negotiations about a fifth batch of fighters, said a
former senior military official.
"It got the senior leadership involved and that was just
what was needed," said the official. "At some point, only the
adults can make the decisions."
Venlet, a soft-spoken realist and three-star officer, was
brought in by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to head the
F-35 program after he fired two-star Marine Corps Major General
David Heinz in February 2010.
Venlet also helped rebuild trust in the program on Capitol
Hill while getting a better grip on the vast and complex
challenges internally. While he would have given a different
speech in September to Bogdan's, officials familiar with his
thinking said Venlet fully supported the wish to issue a stern
Defense officials say Bogdan's more forceful style may be
just what is needed now. His candor is already winning points
among military officials and industry executives alike.
"He's a very competent professional and very candid - a very
strong manager," said Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's top arms
buyer, when asked about Bogdan at an event in New York last
week. "I'm looking forward to working with him on the F-35."
3,200 FLIGHT HOURS LOGGED
Bogdan graduated from the Air Force Academy with a degree in
aeronautical engineering in 1983, moving on to fly the Air
Force's aging KC-135 refueling planes and many others, logging
more than 3,200 flight hours in more than 35 different aircraft.
He later earned two master's degrees and spent a year
working on missile defense programs before moving into the
complex and arcane world of Pentagon procurement in 2001. He
also worked at Air Force headquarters, and served as the senior
military assistant to former Pentagon arms buyer John Young.
"Chris was extremely helpful. He's very straightforward,
open and direct, and I think that's what's needed across
acquisition programs right now," Young said. "There's too much
of the lawyers and other people tempering and silencing people."
Bogdan stayed on at the Pentagon for several months after
Ashton Carter - now deputy defense secretary - replaced Young,
but Carter soon named him to lead the Air Force's decade-long
effort to buy new refueling planes.
There were some ups and downs, but Bogdan ultimately won
kudos for awarding a contract to Boeing Co and locking
the company into a fixed-price development contract that
analysts say could well result in narrow losses for the company.
"The Air Force has focused heavily on improving the culture
and practices of its acquisition people, and Chris Bogdan is
exhibit A in the case that they've succeeded," said Loren
Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute.
"This is the guy who finally got the Air Force tanker contract
awarded after a decade of trying."
A second former military official lauded Bogdan for taking
responsibility when an inadvertent data swap threatened the Air
Force's third to buy new tankers. "Even when things didn't go
perfectly, he took responsibility for fixing what was wrong."
Bogdan emphasizes accountability in every speech he gives
these days, underscoring that he and everyone involved in the
F-35 program need to take responsibility for their part in what
he has called an "incredibly complex" program.
"Take the program construct and the concurrency we have, put
those together and boy, you have got one monster on your hands.
It is a very complicated program," Bogdan said.
He has also been known to cite the case of the legendary
General George S. Patton, the gruff World War Two general, who
missed the chance to lead the D-Day invasion of Normandy and was
forced to apologize after he slapped two sick soldiers.
Former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said Bogdan's
experience with tough negotiations on the tanker program would
serve him well on the F-35 program, which faces big challenges
in coming years as the U.S. Marine Corps gear up to start using
the new planes and international partners firm up their orders.
He said Bogdan would need to develop strong ties with top
Air Force and Marine Corps leaders, as well as ground commanders
who would rely on data gathered by the new warplane.
Kevin Killea, who oversees aviation requirements for the
Marine Corps, said Bogdan's arrival had led to noticeable
changes at the F-35 program office.
"Whether you like his approach or not, there comes a time in
any organization when you heed a change of pace, or a change of
attitude," Killea said, noting that the F-35 office had clearly
become more aggressive about maintaining the program's schedule.
More changes are likely afoot.
Bogdan ran a lean operation on the tanker program, priding
himself on having the smallest staff of any major acquisition
program, and he has already spoken with reporters about shedding
excess baggage in the much larger F-35 program office.
Bogdan must also establish good ties with the international
partners, some of whom have grown frustrated by Washington's
repeated moves to slow its own production orders since that
slowed progress in driving down the cost per airplane.
"He's going to have to be a very astute politician because
of all the emotions and sensitivities that surround the program
in this country," said the second former official. "Just as
important is going to be talking to the international partners
and keeping them informed."
Bill Greenwalt, a former Pentagon official who now works for
the Aerospace Industries Association, said Bogdan would be a
great asset for the F-35 program, despite his blunt talk.
"He's incredibly sharp, not afraid to speak the truth. He's
not going to shoot first and ask questions later. He's going to
ask a lot of questions and make the best decisions he can."