By Leigh Munsil
Lockheed Martin took to Capitol Hill on Wednesday with an F-35 flight simulator and footage of the advanced fighter jet in flight to tout the economic benefits of the massive weapons project for companies supplying key components.
The midday event was a chance for staffers to see the plane and the company to maintain support for the controversial project as they prepare to vote on the Pentagon’s budget for next fiscal year.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who represents Forth Worth, where the aircraft is built, spoke at an event in the Rayburn House Office Building’s foyer.
“Even though it’s made in my hometown,” she told Politico, “it’s not just a Fort Worth plane. All these people are involved. It means jobs for everyone all over the United States.”
Lockheed officials also touted the Pentagon’s latest Selected Acquisition Reports published last week, which found that F-35 program costs decreased by $7.5 billion in the most recent reporting period, from $398.6 billion to $391.1 billion.
But Granger warned that if lawmakers want to see continued savings, they can’t adjust the fighter’s production and delivery schedule.
“I’m thrilled. I’m absolutely thrilled,” Granger said of the SAR findings. “The thing that Congress has to be aware of is, Lockheed can do everything they can do to lower the cost, but if Congress then steps in like they’ve done and says, ‘Well, OK we’re going to buy that many but we’re going to slow it down’ — slowing it down raises the price. Congress really needs to be aware of that and understand that if we’re doing that, then don’t come around later and say, 'Oh, we’ve got a price overrun.’”
Granger was joined by Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, whose district includes F-35 engine-maker Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed executive vice president and F-35 program manager Lorraine Martin.
Larson encouraged fellow lawmakers to restore automatic cuts to the Pentagon budget known as sequestration and “get over this notion” that the F-35 program needs to be downsized.
“This is not the time to pull back; this is the time to push forward,” he said.
Martin said the supplier day was a chance to remind members of Congress how important smaller suppliers are to building an affordable jet.
“There are a lot of pressures on this nation and other nations that are a part of this program,” she said. “But quantity matters. Eighty percent of all cost savings going forward are going to come from increased quantity. … Now it’s about buying in bulk throughout the supply chain, and enabling that to bring the cost down. And that is a message that we’re bringing to all of the representatives here."
"Even though we understand that it is really challenging times, we need this aircraft, we need it to be cost-effective, and it means we have to buy it on the profile that’s in the program of record.”
Yet the warnings about the impact of cutting the buy contradict comments from the Air Force’s program manager on Tuesday, who said that now that the company is producing more aircraft each year, it would have minimal impact on unit cost if next year’s buy was modestly reduced.