Katherine Ziesing | Canberra
As required by the Senate inquiry into the Joint Strike Fighter, head of the JSF program LTGEN Chris Bodgan made one of his regular trips out to Australia to give a statement to inquiry and general update to the Australian program office about the state of the program.
Given the recent DOT&E report into the program, the visit was timely.
“As I have told my Australian partners on this program, and all the partners on the program when I travel to their nations to discuss the F-35 program, I am not a salesman,” LTGEN Bodgan said at a media round table this week.
"People forget how many times the F-16 crashed, that two F-22s crashed, and the F-111 was seven years late arriving in Australia."
“That is not my job. My job is to run the best program I can and provide the fairest assessment and the best information to my partners so that they can make the best decisions they can for their countries, whatever that decision is, on the F-35.”
The obvious question was asked in terms of the issues raised in the recent DOT&E report: what are the risks and how are they being managed?
“All of the facts and figures in that report are accurate,” LTGEN Bodgan confirmed. “I know they are accurate because every piece of information in that report came from my program office. We are transparent in what we do. So we provide all the information to both the partners and all the government agencies on the US side. So, having said that, there were absolutely no surprises in that report for me, for my partners, or for my leaders in the Department of Defense or Congress. We knew about every single issue in that report.”
That being said, LTGEN Bogdan explained earlier this week at a dinner presentation to the Sir Richard Williams Foundation that the program was audited or reviewed by 30 different agencies or bodies last year, both from the US and from partner nations.
“What that report fails to do, however, is give you the rest of the story,” LTGEN Bogdan continued. “It lays out issues and problems that we have on the program, which are accurate, but instead of putting a comma after that it puts a period at the end of the sentence. Well, what I would like to do is put a comma there and tell you okay, we have that problem but it's either fixed or we're in the process of fixing it, or we're in the process of implementing the fix already, so you get a better sense of where the program is. The report doesn't quite do that, so it leaves you with a perception that maybe the program is far worse off than it really is.”
"I do not think I've ever seen a program where the misperceptions and inaccuracies are so far from the reality of the program."
LTGEN Bogdan went through every single issue raised in the report and past issues that have been raised in regard to the program. The moral of the story is yes, the F-35 is complex, yes, things in the past could have been done better, and yes, the program has hit every milestone since 2012 when the program was rebaselined. He also pointed out that people forget how hard it is to birth a new aircraft. People forget how many times the F-16 crashed, that two F-22s crashed, and the F-111 was seven years late arriving in Australia.
“In fact, what I've told folks is that in my 25 plus years of acquisition experience, running many, many programs, I do not think I've ever seen a program where the misperceptions and inaccuracies are so far from the reality of the program. I think that gap is pretty big on the F-35 program.”
In answering the numerous criticisms raised by a number of commentators on the program, LTGEN Bogdan is calm in his comment that “they don’t have the data; I do”.
“The program runs on money and trust. And if we lose your trust, if we lose the trust of the partnership; if I lose the trust of the senior leaders on this program throughout the partnership then we don't have a program at all.”
Funnily enough, LTGEN Bogdan’s Senate Inquiry timeslot was overtaken by the release of the White Paper and his statement was not heard at this time.