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Senior Pentagon leaders told Senate appropriators on June 19 they are increasingly confident in the operational capability of the F-35 and are gaining a better understanding of future sustainment costs. During the hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense panel, ranking member Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss) asked Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh if the increase in cost to the F-35 program is creating pressure to look at an “investment in alternatives,” in addition to maturing the F-35 strike fighter program. Welsh replied the program office and contractor Lockheed Martin have made progress in understanding what it takes to build the aircraft and those costs are “pretty well captured.” The costs now faced by the program office and the services are operations and sustainment over time, to repair, to supply, and to base the aircraft. One of the benefits to the problems created by concurrent testing and production, Welsh noted, is that the services have actual numbers earlier in the program on sustainment. “We’re starting to replace projected cost with actual cost,” Welsh said. And, as the F-35 flies more hours the services will have a better feel for what it really costs to maintain the aircraft in the real world, he added. (See also F-35 Costs Decrease)