Lockheed Martin F-35, photo Lockheed Martin
US senator John Cornyn could block the nomination of Ashton Carter as Deputy Secretary of Defense because of Carter's "apparent lack of commitment" to the success of the Lockheed Martin F-35 programme.
The implied threat was communicated in a letter sent by Cornyn to Carter's office on 24 August and released to the public.
The letter warns that Cornyn believes the Department of Defense's failure to advocate the F-35 has "invited unwarranted criticisms" and calls to cancel the programme. Cornyn specifically objects to the DoD's decision earlier this year to reinvest only $4.6 billion to pay for cost overruns and schedule delays in the development phase, yet cutting $12 billion from the production phase over the next six years. Some of the F-35's production funding was diverted to buy more Boeing F/A-18E/Fs, Cornyn wrote.
"Can you assure me that this will not occur again in the future?" Cornyn asked Carter in the letter.
Cornyn also asks Carter to recommit in writing to his stated pledge to increase F-35 procurement by about 16 aircraft in FY2013, as well as explain why it is "imperative" for the USA to successfully deliver the F-35s currently in the programme of record.
Carter is currently Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. In this role, Carter has overseen two revamps of the F-35 schedule and budget since 1 February 2010. The F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variant is less than half-way through a two-year probation, with cancellation threatened by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates if more problems appear.
Since February 2010, Gates has been the most outspoken DoD official in criticising the programme's delays and cost overruns. Carter has repeatedly called the F-35 essential to the DoD's future, but noted in Congressional testimony in May that currently projected support costs would be "unaffordable".