2011 may be F-35 fighter's do-or-die year

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramJanuary 4, 2011 

If there's one thing the F-35 joint strike fighter program needs in 2011, it is some clear-cut signs of progress.

Hounded by controversy for much of the past two years, the F-35 has become the poster child for troubled, vastly overbudget military weapons programs.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other top officials have repeatedly complained about the performance of contractor Lockheed Martin and soaring cost estimates. Top military and civilian managers of the program were fired or changed jobs.

That's not a good track record now that the political dialogue is largely about cutting budgets and deficits.

The danger, said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va., is that if the F-35 doesn't show real and visible progress it will become more of a target.

"They need to fly it more publicly. They need to show what it can do," Aboulafia said. "I think the biggest danger is Congress gets fed up with missed deadlines and problems and decides to fix things by cutting funding, and then you miss more deadlines."

Lockheed officials say they made progress in 2010 testing the jets and learning what worked and what didn't.

The tests flights went well, said J.D. McFarlan, vice president of F-35 testing. "The pilots are pleased with the handling and flying qualities of the jets."

To read the complete article, visit www.star-telegram.com.

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