USAF Takes to Capitol Hill to Air Frustrations With Lockheed, Boeing

Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force's top acquisition officer, testifies Wednesday at a Senate Armed Services Airland subcommittee hearing. Screenshot photo.

Air Force officials shared harsh words for the prime contractors of two of its three major acquisition programs, following a public argument over an F-35 repair issue and continued delays on the KC-46. However, the Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition official said he is “very happy” with how the B-21 is progressing.

The F-35 Joint Program Office is currently not accepting deliveries of F-35s as it argues with Lockheed Martin over who is responsible for paying for a production error on more than 200 jets. Air Force acquisition chief Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, during a Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, said it is the Air Force’s position that Lockheed is responsible for the fixes. Bunch said he is relying on the JPO to “stand up and take this step to make sure we’re getting a quality product.”

The Air Force’s next generation tanker is also facing issues, with at least an 18-month delay on delivery and more problems discovered during testing. Boeing still has a “long way to go” with the KC-46’s testing program as there are three “category one” deficiencies that need to be fixed, Bunch said.

“We are concerned,” he said, though he also noted the service remains “optimistic” the first KC-46 will be delivered by the end of the year. The Government Accountability Office, however, released a report Wednesday predicting that the first delivery will not happen until May 2019.

The contract structure means Boeing is responsible for all costs beyond a $4.9 billion ceiling, which is long since passed.

The good news on the so-called “big three” acquisition programs is that the B-21 bomber has completed its preliminary design review, Bunch said. The first set of software for the bomber has been “dropped,” with the second set under development.