U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican, talked with McClatchy reporter JamesRosen about the past problems and future potential of the F-35 jet fighter, which is slated to bedeployed to the Beaufort Marine Air Corps Station:
“It’s probably one of most mismanaged programs in the Pentagon, but the aircraft ismission essential for our military. The F-16 and F-18 are non-stealth fighters and need to bereplaced. The key in today’s 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 stealthfighter, the F-35 is a multipurpose fighter that can do air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. Itwill be configured differently for the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps’ version is going to havevertical takeoff and landing.”
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“The cost overruns are just a sign of how broken the procurement system is. The militarykeeps adding requirements. When people say the F-35 is very costly and behind schedule andover budget, they’re right. Part of it’s the military, part of it’s the contractor, but we need thefighter. To stop now would make no sense. We don’t have a replacement in the cue for the F-16and 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 itcosts more than it should and the contract has been poorly managed at times, but the F-35 issorely needed.”
“Once the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort receives the F-35s, it will have the mostmodern fighter in the military, so the base is much more likely to survive. That’s good news forthe people of Beaufort. The reasons Shaw (Air Force Base) and McEntire (Jointl GuardBase) 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 todefend ourselves. To stop production of the F-35 after finally getting the kinks worked outmakes no sense. A lot of times people just want to sexy these things up, make ‘em do wowstuff when wow is not required. But the real problem is the way we pay for these things – costplus. From the contractor’s point of view, there’s no incentive to keep the cost down. What Iwant is a fixed-price contract. That’s what we’re doing with the engines for the F-35. When youbuy these big weapons systems, the presumption should be fixed price. Cost-plus means thelonger it takes, the more it costs and the more the contractors make. That’s a bad formula.”
“A cost overrun should not automatically be paid by the government. If the contractor isat fault, they should share the cost overrun. If the Pentagon keeps changing the requirements ofthe plane, then it’s unfair to the contractor. But a lot of these cost overruns are just basicallypoor management by the contractor. To have canceled the F-35 after investing all this moneyand 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, Ithink, is going to wow the world. Making airplanes is not about creating jobs, it’s aboutprotecting America, but it has the side benefit of creating jobs. To good Allies we will sell theplane, but it’s not going to be the most advanced version. The UK, Canada, we may even sellthe F-35 to Gulf Arab states.”