Heated Exchange

March 1, 2013—In a heated exchange with Alan Estevez, President Obama’s choice to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) angrily ruffled his papers and threw his pencil as he tried to emphasize his frustration over the continued delays and cost overruns in the F-35 strike fighter program.

“Can you tell us there will be no further cost overruns borne by the federal government?” asked McCain during Thursday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider Estevez’s nomination.

“I could not possibly do that, senator,” replied Estevez, who then emphasized the program’s recent restructuring.

McCain added, “Well, if I sound frustrated . . . it’s because I am. This committee has been tracking this program for many years. We’ve had witness after witness. We’ve had promise after promise. We’ve had commitment after commitment, and yet, the only thing that has remained constant is that Lockheed [Martin] has earned a 7 percent profit since the program began.”

The terse exchange stemmed from the recent grounding of the existing fleet of F-35 test and training aircraft following the discovery of an engine blade crack on one of the Air Force’s test airplanes and from comments made by F-35 program chief Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan about the state of the government-industry relationship on the multi-billion-dollar program.

“What I see Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney doing today is behaving as if they are getting ready to sell me the very last F-35 and the very last engine and are trying to squeeze every nickel out of that last F-35 and that last engine,” said McCain, quoting comments Bogdan made this week to reporters at an air show in Australia.

P&W supplies the F-35’s F135 engine.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) repeatedly tried to get Estevez to contradict Bogdan’s claims, though Estevez wasn’t biting.

“I’m not sure that the [Defense Department] would agree with Lieutenant General Bogdan in that implication,” said Blumenthal, in whose state P&W has its headquarters and builds the F135.

“I’m not going to try to speak for Lt. Gen. Bogdan. We have not spoken on this as he is traveling,” replied Estevez.

Blumenthal added, “My own view is that that relationship could be improved but these remarks do not reflect the relationship as it is now.”

This is not the first time Bogdan has spoken harshly about the industry-government partnership.

Last September, during AFA’s Air and Space Conference in National Harbor, Md., Bogdan called the government’s relationship with Lockheed Martin “the worst I’ve ever seen” on a program in his 20 years of experience in defense acquisition.

When asked by reporters in Australia if the relationship was improving, Bogdan said it was, although not at the rate that he would prefer, reported Reuters.