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F-35 'deeply concerns' US senators on cost and schedule

Two US senators - Carl Levin and John McCain - have expressed deep concern about the Lockheed Martin F-35 programme's "growing costs and apparent delays", as the Department of Defense works to restore confidence in the development project.

The joint statement by the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, came after a closed hearing about results from the Joint Estimating Team (JET). The panel of Pentagon's cost experts has reportedly warned that the F-35 programme faces a $16 billion cost overrun and a two-year delay, based on current trends.

Lockheed Martin 

"Involved in today's briefing were discussions of strategy to keep costs down and to have development brought back to its planned schedule," the joint statement says.

In response, Lockheed has affirmed that it shares the senators' concerns about cost and schedule. Lockheed also describes new details about cost reduction achieved since last year, with low rate initial production jets 47% cheaper than flight-test aircraft, it says.

"It is our impression that the [secretary of defense] intends to fully support F-35 and maintain reserves to ensure overall programme success while holding industry to more aggressive targets, which we support," Lockheed says.

But the F-35's customers are clearly wary about F-35 costs. Gen James Conway, US Marine Corps Commandant, sidestepped the cost question during a press conference on 15 December. Conway said that he is focused on the in-service date for the F-35B, and that cost overruns are someone else's concern, although he is watching it.

Conway also hints that a key event in the F-35B flight-test schedule could be delayed by as much as a year. The F-35B vertical landing event could take place at any time between now and the end of May, Conway says. That conflicts with previous statements by Lockheed, which had hoped to see the first vertical landing take place in January. The event was originally scheduled for June 2009.

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