Concerns about the costs of the F-35 aircraft in Congress should not impact hundreds of jobs expected to come to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as part of a program to manage the advanced fighter jet, a local leader said.
The F-35 is the country’s most expensive weapons system, with projected operating costs of more than $1 trillion, according to a report out last week from the Government Accountability Office. A shortage of parts, repair backlogs and mismatched parts have also kept many F-35 jets grounded, with nearly 30 percent unable to fly 30 percent of the time from May through November 2018, the GAO reports.
“It is a program that requires a significant amount of funding but also has significant impact to the readiness of the military,” said Maurice “Mo” McDonald, executive vice president of aerospace and defense for the Dayton Development Coalition. “I am confident that the Department of Defense will figure out the best way to sustain this aircraft in the future.”
The F-35 program is in the midst of a $10.5-billion modernization effort that will run through fiscal year 2024, according to the GAO.
U.S. Senators Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, in December announced that the Pentagon has decided to locate the F-35 Hybrid Product Support Integrator Organization at Wright-Patt. The program could bring at least 400 jobs to the base.
So far, there have been “no signs” that number will change McDonald said. A Wright-Patt spokesman declined to comment on the F-35 issues because it’s being debated by Congress.
“The health of the F-35 program is important to Wright-Patterson and the people of Ohio and I will continue to do everything I can to support this program,” Portman said in a prepared statement.
The current F-35 HPSI organization was established in Crystal City, Virginia, at the F-35 Joint Program Office. HPSI supports a global fleet of more than 340 aircraft and when it moves to its new location at Wright-Patt it will be led by the Air Force with a workforce from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, international partners and industry. The organization will be directly accountable to the product support manager within the F-35 Joint Program Office.
The Air Force is conducting the requisite environmental analysis and the final basing decision will be confirmed by the Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson after the analysis is complete.
The F-35 HPSI’s primary role is to integrate support across the supply chain, maintenance, sustainment engineering, logistics information technology and training disciplines. It will deliver support for fielded F-35s while preparing for future force expansion.
Wright-Patt currently has an F-35 technical division office. The Air Force Materiel Command and the Life Cycle Management Center are also both based at Wright-Patt.
“Today at an Armed Services hearing, I urged DoD to increase its F-35 procurement to secure air superiority for the U.S. and its allies, as well as decrease long-term aircraft sustainment costs,” Turner said Thursday. “These positive impacts are now being felt locally.”
Analysis have told the Dayton Daily News the F-35 program will have a long-term impact on the base.
“The F-35 is going to be the most widely used fighter in the world for the next 30 years,” said Loren Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. “That means this is a franchise that goes on forever for the workforce at Wright-Patterson.”
The Air Force conducted its first combat mission using its variation of the F-35 jet this week, according to a release from Air Force Central Command. Two F-35As conducted an air strike Wednesday in Wadi Ashai, Iraq to hit a tunnel network and weapons cache in the Hamrin Mountains, according to central command.
The same day as the strike, a group of more than 100 retired military officers sent a letter to congress urging legislators not to cut funding for the aircraft.
In the letter, officers wrote that the F-35 is needed to counter the advancing “military edge” of both Russia and China. The F-35 is the “most advanced fighter” and it’s of “unequivocal importance” the Pentagon provide the best equipment it can for service members, the letter states.
“The F-35 program is an important national security tool and I’m confident Wright-Patt’s workforce will continue to strengthen and improve the program,” Brown said in a prepared statement. “At the same time, the Department of Defense needs to address the problems outlined in the GAO report, fix the underlying issues and make sure that taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently and effectively.”
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