Lockheed’s ‘Mad Al’ Rallies Retired Navy Admirals for F-35 Bid

(Bloomberg) -- Citing the threat of cuts by the Pentagon, Lockheed Martin Corp. officials are pressing retired Navy admirals and Air Force generals to sign letters of support asking lawmakers to add more F-35 jets to the Trump administration’s 2020 budget proposal.

“Right now, DOD is slowing F-35 production at the very time it should be accelerating the program,” Allen Myers, Lockheed’s vice president for Navy and Coast Guard programs, wrote in an April 22 email to a group of retired admirals.

While it’s a common tactic in Washington for advocates of a particular issue, especially in the national security world, to release letters of support signed by retired generals or admirals, it’s less common to see the behind-the-scenes solicitations for that support. Using a nickname from his days as a naval aviator, Myers, himself a retired admiral, signed the message with “Fight to Fly, Mad Al.”

“Congress is fully supportive of the program and poised to push up procurement,” Myers added. “Please help me show them they are doing the right thing for our Nation.”

2020 Budget

The call for help comes after President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget requested 78 of the next-generation stealth fighters, six less than originally planned. Myers said it’s a mistake to pull back on the Pentagon’s largest weapons program.

“Costs are dramatically dropping with procurement costs falling BELOW $80 million for the F-35A and flying hour costs nearly on par with 4th generation aircraft and a pathway to even lower costs,” he wrote. “Despite the bright state of the program,” the Pentagon is limiting Navy Department purchases to “30 F-35Bs/F-35Cs a year, and USAF to 48 F-35As a year,” wrote Myers, citing different versions of the jet built for U.S. and allied forces.

Left unsaid were ongoing delivery delays, reliability woes, increased support cost estimates and spare parts shortages that have beset the warplane.

The estimated total price for research and procurement of the fighter has increased by $22 billion after accounting for long-term modifications to the current model, according to the Pentagon’s latest annual program cost assessment. And the estimate for operating and supporting the fleet of fighters over more than six decades has increased by almost $73 billion to $1.2 trillion.

Spare Parts Problem

The Government Accountability Office on Thursday issued a report outlining a mismatch in the number of jets being fielded and the ability of Lockheed’s global spare parts supply system to provide replacements or compatible items in a timely manner.

Spare parts shortages and limited repair capabilities grounded F-35s nearly 30 percent of the time they were scheduled to fly in the May-November 2018 time period, according to the report.

The GAO report disclosed that the Marine Corps’ highly-publicized first F-35B combat deployment, which included missions in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, was marred by parts issues. Nearly 45 percent of 1,654 spare parts supplied to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit were incompatible with the six jets on board, according to the GAO. Examples of incompatible parts were pilot harnesses, masks, breathing hoses, batteries, electrical equipment, antennas, multiple types of valves and panel assemblies.

Lockheed Martin spokesman William Phelps confirmed the authenticity of the Myers email.

“The insight and opinion of senior military officers has always been a valued perspective in helping Congress evaluate critical defense policy and resource issues,” Phelps said.

The email from Myers comes as Congress prepares to take up the White House’s budget request in May, a timeline the executive highlighted in his missive.

“Congress plans to mark up the appropriations bills starting in May, so a timely letter would be very helpful,” Myers wrote, pointing out that his Air Force counterpart is soliciting retired Air Force officers.

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the Pentagon Inspector General during a recently completed investigation that the F-35 program “is unsustainable” if Lockheed’s supply chain is not efficient and that if “the cost per flight hour is not going lower then you’ve got a problem.

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