(Adds comments on Pratt engines, company response)
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, March 26 The Block 3F software
needed for the U.S. Navy's version of Lockheed Martin Corp's
F-35 fighter jet could be delayed by four to six months,
the U.S. general who runs the $392 billion program for the
Pentagon said on Wednesday.
Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan told lawmakers the
earlier Block 2B software was about 80 percent complete and,
while he was "pretty confident" it would be ready in time for
the Marine Corps to start using its B-model jets in combat by
mid-2015, a 30-day delay from July 1, 2015, was possible.
The Pentagon's chief weapons tester and the congressional
Government Accountability Office have both warned that slow
software development could delay the adoption of the aircraft by
the Marines and other U.S military branches.
Bogdan has said for some time that he is less confident
about completing the software needed for the Navy to start using
its F-35 jets in combat in 2018. Wednesday marked his first
detailed forecast for how long that work could be delayed,
beyond the current target of August 2017.
There had been changes to accelerate software development
and the schedule for the Block 3F software needed by the Navy
could still be achieved. "There are a lot of things I can do
between now and 2018," Bogdan said. "I'm just projecting that
we're going to have some trouble getting it done."
Bogdan later told reporters there was no need to bring in
outside consultants as was done to help fix the F-35's
computer-based logistics system.
He told the tactical air and land forces subcommittee of the
House Armed Services Committee that he was more concerned about
retrofitting F-35B jets already built for the Marine Corps with
96 engineering changes.
Lieutenant General Robert Schmidle, deputy commandant of the
Marine Corps for aviation, echoed Bogdan's concerns, but said
the Marines hoped to save time by doing some of retrofitting at
the Yuma, Arizona, base where they currently fly the jets,
instead of moving them to a depot.
Bogdan said pending decisions by Italy, Canada and Turkey to
delay or reduce their F-35 orders could raise the cost of each
remaining aircraft by 2 to 3 percent.
Lockheed is developing three models of the F-35 for the U.S.
military and eight countries that helped fund its development:
Britain, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Denmark, Norway and
the Netherlands. South Korea said this week it would join Israel
and Japan, two other countries outside the initial group, which
have also ordered the jets.
Representative Loretta Sanchez of California, the panel's
top Democrat, quizzed Bogdan about news the international
partners had provided $400 million in extra development funding.
Bogdan said the money came from savings achieved during
earlier phases of the program, and helped offset the injection
of billions of dollars by the U.S. Defense Department when the
program was restructured at no cost to the partner countries.
Bogdan said the program was working closely with Lockheed
and engine maker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies
Corp, to improve the jet's reliability.
He told reporters the program office continued to withhold
some funds from Pratt for quality issues, although he said these
generally involved lower-tier suppliers. He also said the
company's performance was steady and had not gotten any worse.
The Pentagon's F-35 program office had no immediate details
on the withheld amounts.
Matthew Bates, a Pratt spokesman, acknowledged some funds
had been withheld for parts that did not meet requirements, but
said there had been few cases that had held up production.
He said the company was rethinking its process for dealing
with potential quality issues, which now involves sometimes
lengthy halts in engine deliveries as officials investigate. "We
are proposing ideas and approaches to shorten the process that
would enable even better delivery performance," he said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andre Grenon and