F-35 fighter program is behind schedule, over budget

Work on the F-35 joint strike fighter program is far behind schedule and over budget despite the completion Saturday of a milestone test flight.

Reports prepared by the Defense Contract Management Agency for Defense Department officials show that Lockheed and other contractors are months late on deliveries of test airplanes and components for future production aircraft.

The program is even farther behind on testing, and the reports say Lockheed could exhaust its development budget within a year.

Problems cited in the documents, obtained by the Star-Telegram under the Freedom of Information Act, support a recent Pentagon assessment that F-35 development will require two more years and billions of additional dollars.

The Pentagon's top weapons buyer has called a meeting for this weekend to address the reports' conclusions and prepare recommendations for Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The senior Lockheed executive running the F-35 program, Dan Crowley, said in an interview that the reports are largely accurate. But the worst of the delays have been surmounted and good progress is now being made, he said.

"We're not drawing farther from the schedule. We're going to meet the schedule beginning in 2011," said Crowley, executive vice president and F-35 general manager for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth.

The flight Saturday was only the fourth by a test airplane since the contract to develop the next-generation combat aircraft was awarded to Lockheed in late 2001.

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