February 6, 2012 / 5:17 PM / 9 years ago

U.S. arms buyer says F-35 jet purchase was bungled

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon’s initial plan to start producing Lockheed Martin Corp $382 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter years before testing was complete amounted to “acquisition malpractice,” the Defense Department’s acting chief arms buyer said on Monday.

“Now we’re paying the price,” Frank Kendall, acting defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said at an event sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Kendall said the initial approach of having concurrent work on development and production was problematic, but the Pentagon was managing the program carefully and remained committed to the new radar-evading fighter.

Initial development work on the fighter began in 1996 under the Clinton administration. Lockheed then beat out Boeing to win the program in 2001, early in the administration of George W. Bush.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last month said the Pentagon would slow procurement of the new warplane for a third time in three years to allow for more testing and development to be completed before production can be ramped up.

The Pentagon is due to defer work on 179 airplanes over the next five years, pushing their production off until after 2017. There are growing signs that the eight international partners - Britain, Canada, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey - may make similar moves.

Kendall said problems on the plane so far were typical of those experienced by other big new aircraft programs, and he had not seen anything that would prevent the continuation of production at the current low rates.

The F-35 has completed about 20 percent of its required testing and should continue to accomplish about an additional 15 percent to 20 percent of testing in each of the coming years, Kendall said.

He said Pentagon planned had counted on improved design tools and modeling to catch possible problems with the new jet, when they decided to move into low-rate initial production even before the airplane was tested, but those design tools failed.

Kendall said he hoped no more serious issues arose over the next few years, which would allow Lockheed to ramp up production and drive the cost of the airplane lower.

He said the Pentagon hoped to move in that direction soon, but was not quite ready to do that yet.

Reporting By Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Tim Dobbyn

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