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October 30, 2009—That's how Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell described the latest analysis of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program by the Joint Estimating Team. Press reports have circulated (first by Inside Defense) that the new assessment essentially confirms that the cost and schedule problems found last year still persist.

At the Pentagon late last week, Morrell refused to get into specific numbers "because numbers can change" since "the analysis continues." However, he confirmed that Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter—but not Defense Secretary Robert Gates—had received the first of three briefings on the latest JET work.

Morrell called the JET analysis "important" to the budget process, but he also said it offered a "worst-case assessment" while the program office is "generally much more optimistic."

JSF program officials largely dismissed last year's JET, saying it used outdated data. Morrell said Gates must ultimately "figure out the sweet spot" between the two views.

He noted that DOD had added "hundreds of millions of additional dollars" to 2010 JSF funding to "buy down some of the risk" identified by the earlier JET, and he expected the new JET to play an equally important role in deliberations on the 2011 budget and the Future Years Defense Plan.

Morrell explained: "This is the biggest, most expensive and arguably most complicated program this department has ever pursued. We have a great deal riding on the success of this program."

He asserted, too, that during the visit Gates made to Lockheed's Fort Worth production facility, Gates admonished company executives that "he is going to hold their feet to the fire" and "that there are timelines and that there are budgets that are going to have to be met."

When asked about the acknowledgment last week by Lockheed Martin that there is "moderate risk" in the cost and schedule baseline, Morrell refrained from characterizing the new JET analysis. However, he added, "I think it's fair to say that if the JET had provided some especially good news, we would be trumpeting it." 

Pentagon press brief—Morrell on JET—10-29-2009

Examples of program office optimism:

Burning Down the Risk

Moore's Law