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As Services Take Greater Role on F-35, Joint Program Office to Remain

F-35 Lighting II fighter jets, assigned to the 6th Weapons Squadron, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., fly over the Nevada Test and Training Range July 10, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Daryn Murphy/Released)
F-35 Lighting II fighter jets, assigned to the 6th Weapons Squadron, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., fly over the Nevada Test and Training Range July 10, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Daryn Murphy/Released)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Efforts to delegate more authorities to the individual military services on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program are underway following a study that aimed to streamline how the F-35 Joint Program Office operates, the director of the program said on Wednesday.

"The majority of those [recommendations] are incorporated or are being incorporated because they make sense," Navy Vice Adm. Mat Winter said here during the annual Sea-Air-Space exposition.

Winter was addressing rumors that the JPO was in the process of dissolving, or eventually plans to dissolve, following a memo from Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord.

Lord's memo, addressed to lawmakers, surfaced last month. It stated that the individual services were expected to take charge of their piece of the Pentagon's largest acquisition program within the next several years, Inside Defense first reported. That move would decrease the purview of the JPO.

But Winter said many elements of the program would still fall under the joint office.

"Variant leads to ensure we have F-35A, F-35B, F-35C, engineering, test, logistics, programmatic alignment and a one-stop shop engagement to those customers exists," he said, adding there are many areas in which JPO remains engaged.

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Winter downplayed the restructuring as a natural occurrence that happens with any major office tied to the Pentagon.

"As we look forward, every weapons system in the U.S. at some point has changed its program office management structure to reflect the realities of the program phase," he said. "We will be in full spread in development, production and sustainment for the next 20 years. We will sustain [that]...until the last flight of the F-35 occurs."

Winter said Lord's memo was prompted by a request from lawmakers in the fiscal 2017 budget to conduct a study of the Joint Program Office "for efficiency of its management structure."

"That direction came based upon the behaviors and the environment that existed before 2017," Winter said, adding the study included not only the U.S. services but international partners flying the Lockheed Martin Corp-made F-35.

Winter said Lord took the time to engage with the services and the JPO to ensure that the management structure "will continue to be the most efficient and effective to design, deliver, produce and sustain the F-35 ... into the future."

As roles for the office as well as the services mature, officials will retool the management structure as necessary, he said.

Meanwhile, Winter on Wednesday said negotiations with Lockheed for the next batch of aircraft are ongoing and are expected soon.

Winter recently publicly rebuked Lockheed for its slow movement on the latest contract. The JPO and Lockheed have been trying to reach a deal for months for the next batch of 130 F-35s, known as low rate initial production lot [LRIP] 11.

"I am not satisfied in the following areas: the price is coming down, but it's not coming down fast enough," Winter said on Feb. 28.

"We don't know, to the level of granularity that I want to know, what it actually costs to produce an aircraft, and the number of quality escapes and what we call production line defects needs to get better," he said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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