U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican, talked with McClatchy reporter James Rosen about the past problems and future potential of the F-35 jet fighter, which is slated to be deployed to the Beaufort Marine Air Corps Station:
Its probably one of most mismanaged programs in the Pentagon, but the aircraft is mission essential for our military. The F-16 and F-18 are non-stealth fighters and need to be replaced. The key in todays environment is with the advancement of anti-aircraft technology, stealth technology is absolutely essential. The B-2 is a stealth bomber, the F-22 is a stealth fighter, the F-35 is a multipurpose fighter that can do air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. It will be configured differently for the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps version is going to have vertical takeoff and landing.
The cost overruns are just a sign of how broken the procurement system is. The military keeps adding requirements. When people say the F-35 is very costly and behind schedule and over budget, theyre right. Part of its the military, part of its the contractor, but we need the fighter. To stop now would make no sense. We dont have a replacement in the cue for the F-16 and the F-18. The way air defenses are developing, stealth technology is the future of warfare. You can admit the weapons-procurement system needs to be reformed, you can acknowledge it costs more than it should and the contract has been poorly managed at times, but the F-35 is sorely needed.
Once the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort receives the F-35s, it will have the most modern fighter in the military, so the base is much more likely to survive. Thats good news for the people of Beaufort. The reasons Shaw (Air Force Base) and McEntire (Jointl Guard Base) are not at the top of the list for F-35s is our F-16s are newer than most F-16s.
I want not just to save an airplane, I want to have the capability we need as a nation to defend ourselves. To stop production of the F-35 after finally getting the kinks worked out makes no sense. A lot of times people just want to sexy these things up, make em do wow stuff when wow is not required. But the real problem is the way we pay for these things cost plus. From the contractors point of view, theres no incentive to keep the cost down. What I want is a fixed-price contract. Thats what were doing with the engines for the F-35. When you buy these big weapons systems, the presumption should be fixed price. Cost-plus means the longer it takes, the more it costs and the more the contractors make. Thats a bad formula.
A cost overrun should not automatically be paid by the government. If the contractor is at fault, they should share the cost overrun. If the Pentagon keeps changing the requirements of the plane, then its unfair to the contractor. But a lot of these cost overruns are just basically poor management by the contractor. To have canceled the F-35 after investing all this money and finally getting it right would have made no sense.
Another way to lower the unit price is to open the F-35 to foreign sales. This plane, I think, is going to wow the world. Making airplanes is not about creating jobs, its about protecting America, but it has the side benefit of creating jobs. To good Allies we will sell the plane, but its not going to be the most advanced version. The UK, Canada, we may even sell the F-35 to Gulf Arab states.