WASHINGTON – Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Readiness, and Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, delivered the following opening statements at a joint subcommittee hearing on the F-35 program:
Rep. Lamborn remarks as prepared for delivery:
Our nation’s adversaries are advancing their military capabilities at an alarming pace. It is more important than ever that we maintain our advantage against these peer and near-peer countries. Critical to our advantage will be our 5th generation F35 warfighter. While we are currently flying 400, plans include the procurement of close to 2500.
Over the past several years, this committee has focused on both the affordability and availability of the F35. From a readiness perspective, we must ensure that the F35 capability is sustainable. As noted in the statements of both Pratt and Whitney and Lockheed Martin, I appreciate the efforts underway to address these challenges, but it is clear more work needs to be done by all stakeholders.
We need a ready deterrent in our F35 platform, yet readiness metrics including mission capable and fully mission capable rates are concerning. While trending in the right direction, they are still below the Services established objectives. GAO has identified several factors and challenges to F35 readiness including the supply chain, the engine, and the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) system supporting operations, planning, supply chain management and maintenance.
Engine availability is critical piece to this puzzle, as is the delayed stand up of depot capacity. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about how they are working together to address these challenges.
The F35 is a vital national security investment with a planned life cycle of 66-years. I am concerned that estimated life-cycle sustainment costs continue to increase. While procuring the F35 capability is vital to national security, we must ensure we can afford to employ it well into the future.
On this point, time is of the essence. It will be more difficult to reduce sustainment costs as the fleet of F35 aircraft grows. I hope to hear today how the team is working to ensure the Navy, Marine Corps and Army can afford to fly the F35, and specifically how all stakeholders are working together to address the cost gap between projected costs and affordability constraints.
I am committed to continuing our investment into the F35 platform and 5th generation capability because I believe it is crucial to maintain our advantage against adversaries like China. But it is also clear that sustainment challenges exist. If our industry stakeholders don’t succeed in quickly driving down the sustainment costs of the F35, I fear critics of the program will be dealt a stronger hand in their calls to gut the program.
I encourage all stakeholders involved – the services, the Joint Program Office, and the contractors – to get on the same page when it comes to sustainment and affordability.
Rep. Hartzler remarks as prepared for delivery:
The F-35 is a tremendous platform that is critical to our modernization efforts. Fielding a fully mission capable F-35 will fill a serious capability gap in our fighter fleet and help keep us ahead of our adversaries.
But it’s also one of the largest, most expensive, and most complex acquisition programs in D-O-D history. And getting it done right has been a struggle for both the Department and industry. Although progress continues to be made, I share the concerns my colleagues have expressed about capability delays, affordability issues, and readiness problems, which continue to impact the program.
I am particularly concerned with delays in the development of Tech Refresh 3 and the deployment of Block 4 capabilities. G-A-O recently found the D-O-D’s current timeline of 2027 to complete Block 4 upgrades is unachievable. This is troubling because while the F-35 is currently one of the most advanced fighter aircraft on earth, our adversaries are quickly catching up.
The rapid modernization of the Chinese military, especially its anti-access/area denial capabilities, will soon challenge the F-35’s relevance. Block 4 capabilities are needed as soon as possible to maintain the F-35’s superiority and ensure a credible deterrent against China and other adversaries.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about the actions being taken to overcome the challenges associated with Tech Refresh 3 and the Block 4 upgrades, as well as how risks associated with these delays are being mitigated.
I am also concerned that after nearly two decades and over 600 aircraft acquired, we are still in the operational test and evaluation phase. The F-35 cannot move into full rate production until the D-O-D completes the Joint Simulator Environment and can conduct the complex test scenarios that will validate the aircraft’s capabilities. According to recent reports, the simulator will not be ready until late 2022. That’s over three years behind schedule. In the interim, D-O-D and industry must work to resolve over 800 deficiencies, which impact performance and safety.
Our goal should be to field a fully mission capable aircraft as soon as possible. That cannot happen until we can test the aircraft against its requirements and prove to the taxpayer that it does what we need it to do. I hope our witnesses can explain why the schedule on this important milestone continues to slip.
I know my Readiness subcommittee colleagues intend raise a host of concerns associated with sustainment costs and reliability. I share their concerns and I look forward to that discussion with our witnesses.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The F-35 has come a long way in recent years. I applaud the D-O-D and industry for their progress, especially for significantly reducing flyaway costs. But we still have a long way to go. We need to overcome these remaining challenges and we need to do it quickly. A fully mission capable F-35 is vital to our national security.
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