The US Navy's top aircraft buyer has been nominated to assume control of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme as it begins to face a new level of public scrutiny.

Vice Adm David Venlet, commander of the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), must be confirmed by the Senate before he can take the position.

If approved, Venlet would replace a predecessor - Brig Gen David Heinz - who was removed from the JSF leadership post mid-way through what was expected to be a three-year tenure.

Venlet will inherit a programme that is expected to soon breach a cost threshold established under the Nunn-McCurdy Law. As a result, the Pentagon has already restructured the programme. In early February, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced decisions to slash up to 120 orders over the next five years and increase flight-test resources to shrink a projected 30-month delay to 13 months.

F-35 BF-1
 © Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin also must sacrifice up to $614 million in incentive fees.

A decorated radar intercept officer in the Grumman F-14, Venlet has previously served as deputy programme manager for the Boeing F/A-18 and programme manager for the navy's position in the US Air Force's Raytheon AIM-9X air-to-air missile development programme.

As NAVAIR chief, Venlet has managed to balance supporting both the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the F-35C carrier variant. He has publicly endorsed a strategy to buy more F/A-18E/Fs because of F-35C delays, and also defended the JSF programme's rate of progress.

Venlet would be the first USN officer to lead the JSF programme since Rear Adm Steven Enewold, who guided the programme through the redesign for the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variant in 2004.

Source: Flight International