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Air Force to Respond to Recent Criticism of F-35 and KC-46 Aircraft

The first two operational F-35A Lightning II aircraft arrive at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Sept. 2, 2015. The jets were piloted by Col. David Lyons, 388th Fighter Wing commander, and Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 34th Fighter Squadron director of operations. Hill will receive up to 70 additional combat-coded F-35s on a staggered basis through 2019. The jets will be flown and maintained by Hill Airmen assigned to the active-duty 388th Fighter Wing and its Reserve component 419th Fighter Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alex R. Lloyd)

The Air Force will give an update next week at the annual Air and Space Conference on its two most needed yet controversial aircraft programs -- the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the KC-46 Pegasus refueling tanker.

Both projects have recently come under fire from Congress – again. In addition to cost overruns on the $400 billion F-35 program, the fighter’s ability to perform close air support has come into question compared to the aging A-10 Thunderbolt.

The KC-46, developed by Boeing from its 767 series jetliner, has also been hit by cost overruns and questions about Boeing’s ability to meet a deadline to have the aircraft on the ramp and ready for missions by August 2017.

In an Aug. 31 letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote that “I am concerned that the recent problems with the tanker modernization program could prevent the Department of Defense from delivering this critical capability to our warfighters as promised and on schedule.”

The lineup for the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition at National Harbor, Maryland, on Tuesday includes a panel on the F-35 and the KC-46 led by the main officers in charge of getting both programs back on track – Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan for the F-35, and Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson for the KC-46.

Earlier this month on a visit to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Bogdan, the program executive officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office, said the F-35 had gone past the fits-and-starts stage. “We are now growing and accelerating rapidly on this program,” he said.

“We will do everything we can to give the Air Force everything they need” with the F-35, Bogdan said. “If we fall through, the responsibility falls on me.”

Richardson, the program executive officer for tankers at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, will be working with a new management team at Boeing to get the KC-46 program back on schedule.

In a letter to employees last month, new Boeing President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg said he was working “to ensure that the full extent of Boeing resources and expertise are applied to meet our commitment to deliver the initial 18 tankers in 2017."

An artist's rendering of a KC-46A refueling F-16 Fighting Falcons (photo courtesy the Boeing Company)

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