Air Force pledges to reduce F-35 sustainment costs and support nuclear modernization
WASHINGTON Reducing maintenance costs for the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be a “top priority” for the US Air Force’s procurement leader, he said Tuesday.
Andrew Hunter, former director of the Pentagon’s Joint Rapid Acquisitions Cell and President Joe Biden’s choice for Air Force deputy secretary for acquisitions, technology and logistics, told senators he would work on the issue .
“The F-35 is an absolutely vital system for the nation and the challenges we face with our competitors that we face, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region,” Hunter said during his confirmation hearing before the commission. senatorial of the armed forces. “The cost of maintaining the F-35 has been something that has put a strain on the services, especially the Air Force, which has the most aircraft.”
In an exchange with SASC ranking member Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Hunter acknowledged that buying more could be a way to lower operating costs per aircraft. But Hunter added that “there are other ways we can and should take to reduce the cost of the F-35,” although he did not elaborate.
If confirmed, Hunter would oversee an Air Force procurement budget of around $ 60 billion. Beyond the F-35, Hunter said he will work to reduce Air Force sustainment costs more broadly – which he says represents the lion’s share of the lifecycle costs of the Air Force. most weapon systems.
“The Air Force has an aging fleet, and that has increased sustainment costs,” Hunter said in an exchange with SASC President Jack Reed, DR.I. “We have to make sure that we prepare for sustainability upstream. So, for the systems we have under development, we will ensure that sustainability is taken into account early in the design to reduce these costs in the long run. “
Lawmakers have previously urged Lockheed and the Pentagon to cut sustainment costs, saying those numbers could force the Pentagon to cut back on the number of F-35s it plans to purchase. Meanwhile, the Pentagon last month granted Lockheed $ 6.6 billion to maintain the F-35 from FY2021 to FY2023, which promises to lower the cost of piloting the aircraft. ‘about 8%.
The House version of the FY22 Defense Policy Bill would require the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to meet “cost per tail per year” targets, which measure the average cost of flight, maintenance and modernization of the jet.
With the Pentagon’s current nuclear modernization path under competing pressures both internally and politically, Hunter asserted that the Air Force’s ongoing nuclear modernization programs would be one of his top priorities.
“The delivery times for these new systems are very tight. Therefore, if I am confirmed, we will continue these programs urgently, ”said Hunter in an exchange with the top Republican of the Strategic Forces subcommittee, Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
In written testimony, Hunter said he supports the Air Force’s Strategic Ground Deterrence Program, which is expected to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, and the Long-Range Weapons Program, which aims to deploy a new air-launched cruise missile capable of nuclear and conventional strikes.
Also at the hearing, Hunter and the candidate for the post of Under Secretary of the Army, Gabriel Camarillo, defended the military plans to base long-range missiles in the Pacific against charges that they were duplicating. Camarillo described the military’s development of hypersonic weapons and its long-range precision missile as “top priorities.”
Camarillo argued that the military’s long-range firefighting efforts meet the guidelines of the National Defense Strategy, respond to threats from the Pacific and Europe, and would be able to “degrade anti-access defense and refusal of an area that we are likely to face ”.
Tuesday’s comments came six months after the Air Force general responsible for managing the service’s bomber inventory grabbed the headlines for calling the military effort costly, redundant, and redundant. ” stupid “.
Joe Gould is the Congressional reporter for Defense News.