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Deputy Secretary de Leon Media Availability at Palmdale, Calif. on Joint Strike Fighter

Presenters: Rudy de Leon, Deputy Secretary of Defense
May 30, 2000

May 30, 2000

Deputy Secretary de Leon Media Availability at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, Calif. on Joint Strike Fighter

Voice: (inaudible) for everything within the Defense Department. He's only got one boss, and that's Secretary Cohen. Secretary Cohen has tasked him to... There are a couple of really significant programs, this being one of them, national missile defense another. He takes that responsibility very seriously, and that's why he's (inaudible).

Secretary de Leon?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I just wanted to report. As you did, we had a chance this morning to look at both of the prototypes for the Joint Strike Fighter -- the prototype built by Boeing; the second by Lockheed Martin.

This is a critical procurement program for the future of the Air Force, for the United States Navy, and the Marine Corps. The future of tactical aviation I think is embodied in the Joint Strike Fighter. We plan to buy between 3,000 and 6,000. We have 3,000 for our own military use, and then the potential that we would sell to our European allies and to our other allies around the world. So it's a critically important program.

In the short term, it's particularly critical to the Marine Corps and the Air Force. The Marine Corps because their AV-8B Harrier jets are at the end of their life. For the Air Force because the F-16s, even though we have an aggressive service life extension program for them, are coming close to the 6,000 hour mark, which means that those aircraft need to be replaced by one of the aircraft that we saw this morning in terms of the Joint Strike Fighter.

This is the second stop this morning. We stopped in Seal Beach in the beginning to get an update on the national missile defense program that is managed out of Boeing, Seal Beach, as well as the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. An update on that program. There's a critical national missile defense test coming in early July, as well as that will be the topic of discussion at the presidential summit later in the week.

With that, I'm happy to answer any of your questions.

Q: Sir, what is your impression in terms of the overall progress that both contractors are making with the prototypes?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think both prototypes will be flying this summer. I think both are making progress. I was impressed with the level of capability that is embodied in both aircraft right now.

The DEMVAL [demonstration and validation] will require that the aircraft be flown in all three configurations. The carrier version, which is heavier landing gear, and has to land on aircraft carriers; the conventional variant which is the Air Force version, which is largely air-to-air, air-to-ground; and then the Marine variance which is the short takeoff and landing required for close air support.

So in talking to the senior executives associated with both teams, they both express confidence that they will be able to meet all of the test parameters that are established for the aircraft.

The test program involves flying both at Edwards Air Force Base as well as the Navy test center at Patuxent River in Maryland. But I think both teams displayed confidence in their aircraft and are looking forward to moving on to the next step which is actually putting the aircraft in the air.

Q: Sir, we keep getting different reports as to whether it's going to be a winner-take-all contract award, or if it's going to be shared, or how it's going to be divvied up. Can you shed any light on what the thinking is now?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: This is the largest aircraft procurement program in history, so potentially $200 billion in production. So the question is how to maintain competition and how to maintain the industrial base throughout the procurement of the aircraft.

Secretary Cohen, myself, Dr. Gansler, the DoD Acquisition Under Secretary, are examining these issues right now. But in the short term the critical issue is for both the Boeing team and the Lockheed team to get their aircraft airborne and to develop good data in terms of the flight characteristics of both aircraft.

We'll look at that data. We'll look at their ability to do schedules. Then after we evaluate the prototype aircraft we'll be doing an assessment of the producibility of the aircraft. That is to buy the aircraft in the numbers that are required for the three services, this aircraft has to be affordable. So not only do they have to design all of the characteristics into the aircraft necessary for short takeoffs, for carrier landings, for the Air Force mission, but be able to make that aircraft be affordable so we can buy the large quantity that is required.

Q: But you don't see any kind of decision as to whether to split up the work until after the DEMVAL program?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: DEMVAL is the next big issue on the horizon. I know that Secretary Cohen is carefully examining all of his options right now and is engaged with Congress on this issue, particularly in the Senate, which has raised some of these issues. I'm sure he'll have more to say soon, but right now our focus is to make sure that we get a good DEMVAL, a good fly-off between the Boeing and Lockheed aircraft.

Q: That would be the flight this summer?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: That's when they start, correct.

Q: At what point do you make a final decision on that? Pick one or the other.

Deputy Secretary de Leon: Each of the teams have got to fly the aircraft in all three configurations. We've got time built into the summer and fall for that. So I think let's get some of the flight data in and then we'll look at some of these key acquisition and source selection decisions.

Q: There's also rumblings going around that there's perhaps a slowdown for this program in the works. I guess there are some concerns in Congress and some concerns by the GAO that they're giving merit to the idea of perhaps slowing this program down. Or do you see that as perhaps just adding cost to...

Deputy Secretary de Leon: The GAO has raised that issue. If you slow this program down then you create some problems for the Air Force.

Remember I mentioned those F-16s that are nearing the 6,000-hour life. So there is a very narrow window when the Joint Strike Fighter needs to be available and when we can extend the life of the F-16.

The secretary has been very clear to the Congress that he wants to keep the Joint Strike Fighter on track because of the criticality in the Air Force and the Marine Corps in the short term, and then in the longer term for the Navy as well.

Q: After viewing both of the fighter planes today, are you favorable of one or the other?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: They both looked sharp and I think they both have unique characteristics. I think we'll have good information coming out of the fly-off, and then we'll take it from there.

Q: There was a report that ran Sunday in the London Times alleging that Boeing had some sort of inside track in the decision making process. I won't ask you to comment on that, but would you want to refute any of those allegations?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I haven't read the story, but I can say right now the one thing we're committed to is a level playing field so that both sides can compete. Both designs have unique characteristics. I wouldn't say that anyone has got the inside track right now. The inside track is going to be decided in the next five to six months based upon the flight data that comes in from the test program.

Q: Both companies have announced intentions to build the planes in their respective home base, and yet Palmdale (inaudible) last year showing that $2.2 billion could be saved by building the Joint Strike Fighter here. Would that play any role in the decision making process?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: First remember that there are teams that are involved with both the Boeing and the Lockheed version, so however it comes out, the bulk of this aircraft is going to be made in lots of different places. In Florida, in Connecticut, in Texas, in Missouri, in California, in Washington State, in New York, because there are teams of engineers that are working on all of these individual components that are critical to propulsion, to fire control, to avionics, to software. Final assembly is really the last piece, and I think that there's a lot of work to be done -- the DEMVAL, the fly-off -- to get into a discussion on producibility of the aircraft.

So I would say that we are a ways away from making any kind of decision that might impact Palmdale or St. Louis or Seattle or Fort Worth.

Q: Speaking of cost, the things that you've learned on the program, does it still look like both contractors can still deliver within the target unit costs that the services have set up?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: In the short term, both contractors have now committed to delivering the aircraft, have committed to essentially delivering the aircraft that are required for the fly-off, flying those, demonstrating all of the configurations. In terms of the next step, the EMD or the full development of the aircraft and the production, that's where the cost is going to be critical. We have paid for the demonstration. So the critical test to the contractors is one, can they develop the technology. It can fly in all three regimes. Then two, can they build it in a way that it's affordable that will allow the military services to buy in the numbers that they wish. So I think we're getting a lot of work done on both sides to make sure that happens.

Q: Are these two significantly different airplanes? Or are they virtually the same aircraft? But in terms of capability and delivering what you want in terms of performance, are they essentially the same?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: They have different looks, different airframe engineering, and they also have different propulsion philosophies in terms of how to do the Marine Corps mission. But if you look at so many of the other pieces, they embody the same principles. Again, to be able to meet all three configurations of the aircraft.

So I think while they look different, both aircraft are capable of meeting the mission. Now we fly them to really give us the hard data to help us look at their performance rather than simply the engineering data.

Q: Sir, I was wondering, you've got the F-22 early on in production, you've got JSF development, you've got the latest version of the F-18. Are you going to be able to afford all three of these aircraft?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: Well, it's going to be tight, and that's why the producibility of the Joint Strike Fighter becomes critical.

The F-22 is for the upper realm of the envelope, highly complex, extremely sophisticated platform. The Joint Strike Fighter is the counterpart, and it's got to be affordable to buy in the numbers that are necessary to cover all of the critical missions that there are today.

So I think if the program is well managed and we have a very capable program manager with the Marine Corps Major General Hough, the program manager right now. If it continues to have that kind of solid management then I think we can pay for this aircraft modernization.

Thank you very much. Thanks for coming to see these planes.

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