The House Armed Services Committee is demanding more answers and increased certification from the Pentagon on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in its version of the fiscal year 2021 defense authorization bill.
The HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee released their portion of the FY ’21 National Defense Authorization Act June 22, and the bill’s language shows that members are still skeptical about the progress of the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-led program, and are demanding more information before endorsing a move to full-rate production (FRP).
The mark, if adopted, would require the secretary of defense to provide Congress with information involving the F-35’s future production plans, the Block 4 hardware and software development upgrades, and other modernization and training system efforts. The lawmakers are looking to see cost, schedule, risk, program execution and “significant deficiency resolution plans,” before the defense secretary approves for the program to enter full rate production. The FY ’21 NDAA would prohibit the secretary from approving a Milestone C decision until 30 days after this information had been submitted to Congress.
The subcommittee also wants to make sure that the Defense Department has successfully re-sourced all F-35 parts that were originally produced by Turkey before moving into FRP. The mark asks for certification from Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord that all alternative supply contractors have been identified and all contracts are definitized, and that the new parts are all qualified and certified to meet the design and use specifications. The Pentagon said in April 2019 that it was removing Turkey from the F-35 program after the NATO member nation took delivery of the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft weapon system.
HASC Tacair Subcommittee Chairman Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) stated in his opening remarks during Tuesday’s markup that the bill continued “necessary, detailed oversight of strike fighter and training aircraft acquisition programs,” and singled out the F-35, “which has proven to be among the department’s greatest and most expensive acquisition and sustainment challenges.”
The certification and report requests in the bill are to ensure “the F-35 will have a successful full rate production decision, as well as a fully reliable and affordable plane for the future,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the subcommittee’s ranking member.
Hartzler lauded the bill’s support of a “highly capable mix” of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft. While the bill’s language released Monday does not include funding numbers, the Defense Department’s presidential budget request included 115 new fourth- and fifth-gen aircraft, to include F-35s for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, but also Boeing [BA]-made F-15EX aircraft for the Air Force and F/A-18 Super Hornets for the Navy.
The two subcommittee leaders both expressed the need to pass the FY ’21 NDAA to avoid a continuing resolution for the fiscal year. Hartzler noted that even though she would have preferred a higher DoD budget topline, “the Bipartisan Budget Agreement [of 2019] has provided us with the opportunity to pass a bill on time and avoid the consequences of another continuing resolution.”
“Even a short CR has the effect of cutting billions in military resources at a moment when the Pentagon budget is already under stress,” she continued. “The subcommittee’s mark is a good step in the right direction.”
The subcommittee approved the mark via voice vote June 23, with several lawmakers participating remotely. The full HASC committee NDAA markup is scheduled for July 1. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved their mark of the FY ’21 NDAA June 11.