Outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has been using some of his remaining days as the Pentagon's No. 2 to tout the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a job-saving hedge against budget cuts.
In visits to Western air bases this week, Carter, who stunned the Pentagon last month with the announcement of his retirement, said that DoD's commitment to the F-35 would protect civilian and contactor jobs.
He said it would also protect bases flying the F-35 from another round of base closings that Congress has been pressed to consider.
At Hill Air Force Base in Utah, Carter told airmen and civilians that "Hill has a very bright future" because of its selection as one of the first bases to receive the F-35.
"You will host the F-35, which is the linchpin of our tactical future for all three services that will fly them, and Hill is going to have a big part in that future," said Carter, who will leave the Pentagon in December.
In tough times for military spending, Hill has been "a leader in simply getting better buying power for the warfighter and the taxpayer," Carter said.
Carter's remarks were aimed at relieving concerns at Hill about the long-term viability of the base that serves as one of Utah's top employers. Nearly 3,000 civilian employes at Hill were furloughed during the 16-day government shutdown last month.
Carter's remarks at Hill on the F-35 followed on a major policy address by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Washington on Tuesday. Hagel said that coming budget cuts would likely result in tradeoffs that would favor advances in technological capability, symbolized by the F-35, over maintaining current force levels.
One of Carter's main tasks as Hagel's deputy has been focused on reining in cost overruns on the Lockheed Martin F-35, the most expensive weapons system ever built with an estimated price tag of more than $390 billion. The current plan is to produce more than 2,400 F-35s for the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps.
Later on Tuesday, Carter delivered a similar message on the F-35 to sailors and civilians at Fallon Naval Air Station in Nevada, site of major bombing and electronic warfare ranges. The future of the Navy and air combat "will be written in Fallon," said Carter, who was visiting Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada on Wednesday.
Carter couldn't resist getting in some last licks before he leaves at the Congressional sequester process that is currently projected to take $500 billion out of military spending through 2023.
"Sequester, furloughs -- it's disgraceful, it's inexcusable, it's embarrassing," Carter said at Hill AFB. "It shames us in front of others around the world that we can't manage our own internal affairs better," he said.