WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, made the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, on the Subcommittee's hearing titled “Military Services 5th Generation Tactical Aircraft Challenges and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Update.” For testimony and to watch the hearing click here.
"The subcommittee meets today to receive testimony on an update to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, and integrating fifth-generation tactical fighter capabilities into the services' fighter fleets.
I want to welcome our witnesses for today's panel:
Vice Admiral Mat Winter, the Director of the F-35 Joint Program Office;
Lieutenant General Stephen Rudder, Deputy Commandant of Aviation for the United States Marine Corps;
Rear Admiral Scott Conn, Director of Air Warfare for the United States Navy; and,
Lieutenant General Jerry Harris, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force for Plans, Program and Requirements.
Gentlemen, we thank you for your distinguished service and look forward to your testimony today.
This year marks the beginning of an important transition for the F-35 program.
After 17 years of developmental and engineering activities, the F-35 will complete its baseline development program by May of this year, and then enter an operational test period this September to assess and validate if each variant of the F-35 provides the capabilities needed to meet operational requirements defined by each of the military services before us today.
F-35 acquisition is still increasing, but still not to the level the services require. Last year, the Department of Defense requested 70 F-35s. This year, the request is for 77, with plans for the Services to budget for 99 aircraft per year by 2023. Procurement costs for F-35s are steadily declining. Last year, negotiated costs for the three F-35 variants were over six percent lower than the previous year. Hopefully, projections for actual costs continue the recent trend of coming in below the program office's estimates.
Last year marked several notable accomplishments for the F-35 program. Among them: all developmental weapons testing was completed, the final version of block 3F software was provided to some of the fleet, and 66 F-35s were delivered to the U.S. Services. Additionally, F-35 deliveries were made to Italy, Norway and Israel.
But the F-35 program continues to face challenges ahead.
In addition to beginning operational testing, this year also marks a transition from initial development activities to follow-on development, which has become known as 'continuous capability development and delivery' or 'C2D2'. While the goal of C2D2 methodology is designed to deliver continuous modernization to the warfighter in smaller increments and an expedited timeline, the recent Director of Operational Test and Evaluation report to Congress questioned whether the C2D2 program is properly resourced, and whether the testing community will be provided sufficient test aircraft built in a current production configuration to perform and validate future capabilities.
In terms of oversight, the subcommittee has always had affordability at the forefront of its F-35 oversight activities. To supplement our F-35 oversight activities, the subcommittee included a provision in the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that required the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, to review the F-35's sustainment support structure and provide Congress its findings and subsequent recommendations to address affordability issues.
The GAO's report, released in September of last year, noted that the F-35 program is facing key sustainment challenges that include: repair capacity at depots, spare parts shortages compounded by insufficient reliability of various parts and components, unfunded intermediate-level maintenance capabilities, and delays in development of the computer and network-based Autonomic Logistics Information system, known as 'ALIS'.
To address these issues, we understand that the F-35 program office in the past year has executed $114 million dollars to fast track the standup of depots, made investments in reliability and maintainability improvement projects, and obligated $1.4 billion dollars to increase spare parts purchases, build up repair capacity and improve the speed of repairs.
The F-35 program office has also developed a five-year technical roadmap for ALIS to address future requirements. ALIS in its current state is not user-friendly and has caused the services' maintenance personnel to create burdensome manual-tracking processes and inefficient workarounds. More troubling, each service continues to rely heavily upon contractor-provided information-technology experts to manipulate ALIS's intricate software and complex databases because the ALIS system still does not meet contractual capability requirements that would enable our personnel within each service to independently operate and input data into ALIS.
As much attention and effort that was paid to getting F-35 development and procurement costs to a reasonable level, that same level of effort and attention now needs to be applied to ALIS and its functionality.
Despite these efforts, the three Services operating the F-35 all still share a critical concern about rising F-35 operations and support costs affecting affordability. We understand that the F-35 program needs to reduce F-35 operations and supports costs by about one-third to meet Service budget goals for affordability; otherwise, end-state procurement quantity goals for each service could be dramatically impacted.
The higher-than-desired operations and support costs, compounded with the parts and depot issues I mentioned earlier, are already beginning to manifest with the Service's hesitation to increase procurement rates beyond current levels until the F-35's glide path to affordability trends in the desired direction.
For the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, our actions will be to continue close oversight of the F-35 program and continue to provide the Department the tools and resources necessary to realize F-35 affordability. The capabilities the F-35 brings to the battlefield against advanced threats are desperately needed to meet the goals and objectives of our new Defense Strategy and that of our foreign partners invested in the program. We, with our foreign partners, absolutely cannot risk the F-35 program meeting a similar fate the F-22 program did in not being able to procure and field sufficient capacity to meet combatant commander warfighting requirements.
Gentleman, I look forward to your testimony on how we can meet these and other future challenges in the F-35 program."