Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is hosting a "media availability" (aka press conference) in a few minutes from Lockheed Martin's final assembly factory for the F-35 in Fort Worth, Texas.
You can watch the press conference live here: http://www.pentagonchannel.mil/
Gates has thrown his support behind the F-35, justifying his decision to close F-22 production after 187 jets by pointing to the ramp-up of the F-35 fighter. After Gates completes his factory tour in Fort Worth, he will travel to nearby
- Gates' press conference has started at 11:29am EST.
- Gates: "I'm especially excited that things seem to be on schedule for the first training squadron in 2011 and IOC in 2012."
- Gates on F136 alternate engine: "We have looked at the business case a number of times in terms of an alternate engine for F-35. The general conclusion is it would cost several bill dollars in addition. It would, just by the nature of things, it would be 3 or 4 more years behind the F135 engine and there's no reason to believe that it would not encounter the same kind of development challenges that other new engines have encountered along the way ... We feel very strongly that there is not a need for an alternate engine .. The president's advisers would recommend a veto if it's left in the bill. The final decision is up to the president."
- Bonus points to any spotter who can identify which variant of the F-35 Gates is standing in front of in the picture above.
Gates on Joint Estimating Team's prediction that the F-35 will be delayed two more years: "I don't want too get specific about that because frankly I don't know the specifics or the assessment that was made. I know there was some assumptions made in making that assessment that others have some disagreements with. My impression is that most of the high risk elements associated with this program are largely behind us and I feel a good deal of confidence in the management here that the manufacturing process, the supplier chain ... have been addressed or are being addressed."
- Gates on the F-35 costs: "I think the F-35 is at root the core of our combat tactical aircraft in the future. Our planned buy of these airplanes at this point is in the neighborhood of between 2,400 and 2,500 with hundreds more being purchase by our foreign partners. I think that the fact that we have an aircraft that has many common components for all three services is important for potential cost savings. [The F-35 at full rate production is] less than half the price for example of the F-22. My view is we cannot afford as a nation not to have this airplane."
- Press conference ended at 11:43am EST.