The New Sheriff Ain't Happy

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Maj Gen Christopher Bogdan, deputy director of the Joint Strike Fighter program office for the past five weeks, and designated successor to VAdm Dave Venlet, took the stage at the Air Force Association's conference near Washington today with the demeanor of a man ready to kick posterior and chew gum.

But he was all out of gum.

The relationship among Lockheed Martin, the JSFPO and other stakeholders "is the worst I have ever seen. And I have been in some bad ones," Bogdan told the AFA audience. "I can guarantee that we will not succeed in the program if we cannot get over that. It shouldn't take 11-12 months to negotiate a contract with someone we've been doing business with for ten or 11 years."

Bogdan threatened the industrial team with a drop-kick to the pocketbook. Dealing with the contentious issue of operating costs, he said that competing estimates were so sensitive to assumptions that "they can't inform any of us about what to do and what not to do. I'm not listening to any of them. I'm looking at what we have in front of us today -- and the strategy is wrong and it needs to be changed."

So far, JSF support has been planned on the assumption that Lockheed Martin will be the prime support contractor, managing the sustainment of the worldwide fleet -- a potentially vast, single-source business for Lockheed Martin that could last for most of this century. "Competition is a really good thing," Bogdan said, "and I'm going to inject some competition into this process." The JSFPO will also "look at what governments and partners can do organically."

The new program boss hammered home the message that "there is no more money and no more time. The admiral (Venlet) got a great gift -- billions of dollars and 30 more months. We can't ask for more." I asked him afterwards if that would mean compromising on capabilities at the initial operational capability stage. That, he said, was "speculative" -- but he indicated that if it came to that choice, if the Pentagon's current direction holds, the capabilities would have to be deferred.

Bogdan's most positive comment about Lockheed Martin's performance on production and software development -- "the gorilla in the room" -- was to say that there were "glimmers of hope" in the contractor's manufacturing processes and test procedures. The fighter's Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) -- "if we don't get ALIS, we don't fly airplanes" -- is also critical: there are aircraft sitting on the ramp at Fort Worth, awaiting delivery, because they can't fly without ALIS version 1.0.3, which is still under test.

So far, Bogdan is stopping short of demanding heads. However, he made it clear that -- borrowing a phrase from the book Good To Great -- that "you need the right people on the bus. We have the right people. Whether they want to be on the bus is up to them."

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