Air Force, DOD to cut off Joint Strike Fighter from further funding, says Sec. Donley

The days of leveraging other Air Force programs to keep the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter afloat amid repeated cost increases and schedule delays are over, Donley told reporters at the Air Force Association's annual conference at National Harbor, Md., on Monday. 

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"The [Defense] Department is done" siphoning off funds from other service programs and funneling those dollars into the F-35, he said, adding there is no "further flexibility or tolerance in that approach.

While defense appropriators fully funded the Pentagon's fiscal 2013 budget request for the JSF earlier this year, Donley noted that patience on Capitol Hill to continue dumping dollars into the next-generation fighter is also wearing thin. 

"There will be no ... significant reallocation of resources into the program" by the Air Force and likely Congress or anyone else, he said. 

The F-35, which is designed to replace the major fighter jets in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, has had a long history of skyrocketing costs and delays in its development. 

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the program's Marine Corps variant on “probation” and threatened to cancel it unless its cost and schedule problems were fixed within two years.

Late last year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta officially took the Marine Corps plane off probation. Recent reports, however, claim the JSF, considered the most expensive acquisition program in Pentagon history, is currently $150 billion over budget, based on initial cost estimates. 

Program officials in the Air Force and from JSF prime contractor Lockheed Martin have traded much of the blame over the fighter's expanding price tag. 

Donley's comments on Monday come at a time when relations between both parties have seemingly reached a new low. 

Maj. Gen. Chris Bogdan, head of the JSF program, reportedly told conference attendees on Monday the military-industry partnership on the F-35 are the worst he's ever seen in the history of the program. 

In response to Bogdan's comments, Donley told reporters at the conference  that "a number of F-35 issues [remain] on the table." 

Program officials with the Air Force and their industry counterparts are "attempting to get the best deal for the warfighter and the taxpayer as well," the service secretary said. 

Donley characterized the talks between service brass and Lockheed Martin officials as "focused and intense," but in the end the Air Force secretary remained convinced both sides "will eventually bridge [their] differences" and keep the program on track. 

That said, Donley noted that Bogdan's comments were not intended as a way to force some kind of program leadership ranks within Lockheed. 

While the service secretary would not comment specifically on whether a change inside Lockheed's JSF team was in order, he did say both sides remained committed to "keep the program on track ... as efficiently as possible." 

Lockheed Martin Michael Rein reiterated that sentiment in a statement issued shortly after Bogdan's comments on the service's relationship with the defense firm. 

"Lockheed Martin will continue to work with the F-35 Joint Program Office team to successfully deliver the F-35 . . . to the war fighter," he said Monday. 

"We remain committed to continuing our work to solve program challenges and build on the momentum and success we’ve achieved during the past couple of years," Rein added. 

Aside from the difficulties seen in the F-35 program domestically, on the international side, the program has not fared any better in recent months. 

In April, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper blocked the Ministry of Defense from spending any more money on the Canadian version of the JSF, according to news reports.

Harper revoked the Ministry's authority to buy the JSF or any other weapon systems after a damning report issued by Canada's auditor-general alleged that defense official intentionally sugar-coated cost analysis of the fighter, which is slated to replace Canada's fleet of F-18 fighters. 

The country, which is one of nine foreign militaries under contract to buy the JSF, had set aside $8.9 billion for F-35 procurement.

Along with Canada and the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Denmark and Norway round out the nine-member international JSF consortium.

--Story was updated at 5:49pm to include comments from Lockheed Martin