Sen. John Cornyn to approve Ashton Carter for Pentagon post

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Sen. John Cornyn says he will vote to approve the nomination of a top Pentagon official whom he criticized just three weeks ago for not supporting the F-35 joint strike fighter strongly enough.

At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Cornyn briefly praised Ashton Carter and said he would vote for his confirmation as deputy secretary of defense.

Cornyn’s remarks came after several of his colleagues, notably Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were extremely critical of the F-35 program and pressed Carter on the importance of controlling “intolerable cost overruns.”

On Aug. 24, Cornyn wrote a letter to Carter “to express disappointment with your apparent lack of commitment to the success” of the F-35 and to urge “you to step up your defense of this key program.”

Cornyn was also critical of the Pentagon buying more Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets rather than spending the money on the F-35.

As the Pentagon’s head of weapons acquisition, Carter has had to restructure and rebudget the program twice in two years to compensate for delays and cost increases as Lockheed Martin struggled to get airplanes built and flying.

So what changed in the last three weeks?

“Dr. Carter assured me that the F-35 will form the backbone of U.S. air combat for generations to come, and I applaud him for improving the execution of this critical program,” Cornyn said in a statement issued after the hearing.

Carter wrote a letter to Cornyn in which he largely reiterated his past comments and official Pentagon policy on the F-35. Carter said that there are “no alternatives” to the F-35 as the nation’s principal future warplane and that his “focus is on managing the cost and making decisions now that will affect affordability in the future.”

The twin specters of soaring weapons costs, with the F-35 as the leading culprit, and likely defense budget cuts hang over Carter’s confirmation hearing.

He assured the senators that his primary focus, after getting needed weapons and supplies to troops in the field, will be curtailing costs.

Those threats were manifested when a separate Senate panel, the defense appropriations subcommittee, voted to cut $26 billion from the Pentagon’s $656.8 billion budget request for 2012, including trimming $695 million from the F-35 program.

The subcommittee action is one step in the budget process that will unfold in coming weeks as Congress cuts spending to meet deficit reduction targets mandated last month.

Separately on Monday, Cornyn and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced legislation that would require the Obama administration to allow Lockheed Martin to sell F-16s to Taiwan. The jets would be built in Fort Worth.

“This sale is a win-win, in strengthening the national security of our friend Taiwan as well as our own, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.,” Cornyn said in a statement. “Saying no here would mean granting Communist China substantial sway over American foreign policy, putting us on a very slippery slope.”

Most F-35s cleared for flight

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The U.S. Air Force has lifted a two-week-old flight ban that had grounded the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, following a power problem on a plane at Edwards Air Force Base in California. While the probe continues, engineers determined that it is safe to resume test flights, said Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office.

Flight operations will resume for the rest of the planes, which are based at Edwards and at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland.However, two F-35s based at Eglin in Florida will remain grounded because they lack the monitoring systems used in developmental test aircraft that can detect any problems in flight.

The F-35 is the Pentagon’s biggest procurement program at a planned $382 billion to buy 2,457 of the stealth F-35 jets in different versions for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. The F-35 may be a target for budget cuts as the Pentagon is pressed to help lower the federal deficit. The Defense Department will need to find at least $325 billion in cuts over the next 10 years in the first phase of a $2.4 trillion deficit- reduction agreement approved by Congress. Another round of $500 billion in defense cuts may be imposed if Congress fails to approve enough budget savings in other areas.

The Air Force has also grounded Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor, the military’s most advanced fighter, because of reported problems with the plane’s system for supplying oxygen to the pilot. The flight ban on the F-22, in effect since May, remains until an investigation is completed in a few months, said Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes.

Source: Bloomberg

New Equipment Projects for Australia

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Australia is pressing ahead with the acquisition of an air traffic management (ATM) and control system and Anzac frigate communications upgrade, but the government also restructured an F/A-18C/D upgrade project to reduce costs.

The work to refurbish the Boeing F/A-18s is expected to cost A$250-300 million ($246-296 million). The goal is to keep them flying until the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter arrives. The defense ministry says the deal saves A$500 million over an earlier approach that saw the program broken into parts.

The F-35 is due to reach initial operational capability in the 2017-18 or 2020-21 timeframe, says the government’s latest defense capability plan. The first Australian F-35s are due for delivery in 2014. A decision is due between 2015 and 2018 on whether to buy aircraft for a fourth squadron.

The cost for AIR 5431, the ATM effort, is estimated at A$650-900 million, with the initial phase to cost A$100-150 million. Further program reviews are expected in 2012-13 and 2014-15.

The frigate program, called SEA 1442 Phase 4, should increase the communications speed available to the ships and cost A$300-500 million.

The latest update to the capability plan, which charts project goals for the next 10 years, also highlights a Wedgetail fleet upgrade, with a go-ahead decision due in 2020-21 and fielding around 2026-27. The plan also states that the long-range maritime surveillance unmanned aircraft program is now due for approval around 2017-18, with fielding envisioned during 2024.

The document also reveals Australian plans to acquire a maritime strike missile for the F-35, with the weapon to become operational early in the next decade.


Harrier jets leave HMS Ark Royal

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A formation of Harrier jump jets has made its final journey from HMS Ark Royal – the last such flight from a UK aircraft carrier for about 10 years. Four Harrier GR9s took off from HMS Ark Royal approximately 40 nautical miles (74km) off the coast of Newcastle.


Both the Ark Royal and the Harriers are being scrapped under cost-saving plans. The Ark Royal was sailing across the North Sea to Hamburg in Germany.

Lt Cdr James Blackmore, who was the last Harrier pilot to leave, said he was immensely proud.

“It is amazing. I watched a Harrier hovering over Chatham dockyard when I was eight years old and I am now fortunate enough to be flying the Harrier today,” he said.

The crew of the 22,000-tonne Ark Royal, which has seen active service in the Balkans and 2003 invasion of Iraq, lined the decks to watch the historic departure.

Captain Jerry Kyd said there was a tear in his eye when the last Harrier left.

“It was an emotional moment and also one of real pride as we look back over 25 years service to Queen and country,” he said. “No naval officer wants to see any ship decommissioned early and she is a fine vessel and she has a fine history.

Petty Officer Andrew Collins, 26, from Glasgow, said: “HMS Ark Royal is like the girlfriend you hate and you only realise you loved her when she has binned you.”

The Ark Royal – the Royal Navy’s flagship – will eventually head back to her Portsmouth base on 3 December.
It will be replaced by the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carrier at the end of the decade, which will carry F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

- BBC News UK

Flights tests of F-35, Suspended

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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter flight tests have been suspended following the discovery of issues with fuel-system software on all variants and with a door hinge on the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) version.

Flights are suspended temporarily pending modification of software that controls the engine’s three fuel boost pumps according to the Defense Department. Incorrect signal sequencing that could trigger a shut-down of all three pumps was discovered in the laboratory.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin originally said flights were restricted to below 10,000 ft., the altitude below which boost pumps are not required, but the Pentagon says all flights were suspended earlier this week as a “routine” safety precaution.

Late September, flights in Stovl mode were suspended after post-flight inspection revealed an issue with the auxiliary-inlet door hinge on test aircraft BF-1. Efforts to find the root cause of the hinge problem and identify a solution continue.

A fix for the fuel-pump issue has been identified and is being tested. Software modified to correctly align the pump sequencing is to be loaded on to aircraft at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., and Edwards Air Force Base, California, test centers beginning Oct. 5.

F-35A aircraft

Lockheed spokesman John Kent said that “The impact to the flight test schedule is unknown at this time.” While testing of the conventional-takeoff-and-landing (CTOL) F-35A and F-35C carrier variant (CV) remain ahead of plan for the year, Stovl testing is significantly behind schedule.

Four Stovl F-35Bs at Patuxent River completed only 19 flights in September against a plan of 28, for a year-to-date total of 141 compared with 181 envisioned.

Testing of two CTOL F-35As at Edwards is ahead of schedule, with 17 flights in September against a plan of 18, for a year-to-date total of 114 compared with 53 envisioned.

Kent says that the F-35C did not log any of the five planned flights in September as aircraft CF-1 remains in final finishing, but CV testing is ahead of schedule for the year with 14 flights logged against nine planned.

Overall, the F-35 test program has logged 269 flights so far this year, against a planned 243, but September was the first month this year that the program did not meet or exceed its goal, with 36 flights compared with 45 planned.

Kent also says that testing remains on track to achieve the 2010 goal of 394 flights, but Lockheed already has acknowledged that Stovl testing will not meet its targets for the year, and initial at-sea testing planned for March 2011 will be delayed.