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February 1, 2010—The head of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program will be replaced by a three-star general officer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Feb. 1 and, prompted by reporters, added that the new JSF director will probably be named "in a day or so." Gates plans to replace Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David Heinz with a three-star general. (Our Feb. 1 brief, Gates Fires F-35 Manager)

In a press conference to discuss the Pentagon’s 2011 budget request, Gates said that various Pentagon cost estimating teams have uncovered "problems that we were unaware of" in the F-35. As a consequence, he plans to elevate the director of the program from a two-star officer to three-star level, commensurate with the program’s importance.

He said that Heinz, who  has led the JSF program office since April 2009, would be reassigned.

The performance of the program is "not what it should be," Gates said, adding that the Defense Department "cannot absorb the additional costs in this program, and the delays, without people being held accountable."

The program office has disagreed with various Joint Estimating Teams that have pegged the likely cost of the F-35 as going much higher. Gates said Monday that the JET estimates are now the numbers that the Pentagon will plan and budget to.

Heinz has supported the development of a second engine for the F-35, an effort that Gates objects to and has nominated for cancelation for the fourth time with today’s budget. He said he would recommend that President Obama veto any legislation that would continue the development of the F136 powerplant for the F-35.

Gates remained upbeat over the F-35, however, saying Monday that the massive procurement program faces "no insurmountable problems," and "we’re in a position to move forward in a realistic way."

Gates said Lockheed Martin, developer of the F-35, also agreed to take a hit, to the tune of $614 million in progress payments, until problems are worked out.

A company spokesman said Monday afternoon that he had heard nothing to indicate that Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin’s program manager, would be removed from his position.