While reports vary about just what Ash Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said about Joint Strike Fighter costs, one thing is crystal clear: he is frustrated and appears to be genuinely angry about continuing cost increases.
"I'm not happy with the situation we're in now," Carter told an investment conference yesterday. Then Carter said something he may well regret: "We're not going to pay more for the airplane. There isn't going to be ever more money." I checked around and it seems pretty clear the Pentagon's top acquisition official thought no press was present and he may well have been trying to send the strongest signal he could to Lockheed Martin and to the defense industry in general.
How the Pentagon could refuse to increase spending for the only advanced tactical fighter the U.S. -- and a host of allies -- is building raises more questions than even Congress could answer. One of the reasons for Carter's sharp comments may be the great and growing pressure from elements in both political parties for major cuts to the defense budget.
The other point Carter made at the New York conference is that Vice Adm. David Venlet, head of the JSF program, is nearing the end of a comprehensive review of the entire program, one that will inform decisions to be made by Carter and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He said it was the "most thorough" ever done of the program. This explains why virtually no information has come out from the recent Defense Acquisition Board meeting. New data is being generated and assimilated and no one wants to say anything until that data is polished and shiny.