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September 1, 2009—Defense Secretary Robert Gates, noting the “huge investment” already made, reaffirmed his strong commitment to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program during his visit Monday to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 assembly plant in Fort Worth, Tex.

“It is the heart of the future of tactical combat aviation for our services. So the importance of this program can hardly be overstated,” he told reporters after his site tour.

Overall, Gates said he was “very impressed” by what he saw during his visit in terms of the robotics and automation on the F-35 assembly line and, perhaps most especially, the dedication of its workforce. He added that he is “excited” about the program since it appears to have surmounted the high-risk elements associated with its development.

“I can't stand here and say there won't be further cost growth or anything like that, but I think everybody is aware of the importance both of the timelines and the execution of this program to keep the cost as low as possible,” said Gates.

He continued, “I guess I would say my view is we cannot afford, as a nation, not to have this airplane.”

At the same time, Gates reiterated his opposition to funding the F136, the competing engine to Pratt & Whitney’s F135, which serves as the baseline engine for the F-35, saying it’s just not affordable given the tightening defense budget and the importance of making every dollar count across the entire defense enterprise.

“We feel strongly about the fact that there is not a need for a second engine,” he said. And, Gates added, the White House hasn’t changed its tune either, in that President Obama’s advisors likely would recommend that he veto any defense bill that includes F136 funding as some House defense overseers seem intent on seeing happening.

Gates transcript

Lockheed release