The Pentagon has no plans to delay full-rate production of the F-35 fighter jet under development at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth plant, a top Pentagon official said Friday.The possibility of a delay was raised Friday when the The Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon was weighing a delay as one option put forward by a task force to reduce spending over the second half of the decade in response to sequestration.While a task force report may raise a recommendation to delay production, “it sounds like 180 degrees from reality,’’ said the Pentagon official, who did not want to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.Lockheed Martin officials declined to comment. “It is not appropriate for us to speculate on internal Department of Defense discussions and decisions,” Lockheed spokeswoman Jennifer Allen said.Delaying full-rate production would amount to an about-face from comments made about two weeks ago by top Pentagon officials at a press conference at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth aeronautics headquarters, and several days later in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense in Washington D.C.Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the program had made progress in addressing cost concerns and that he was “cautiously optimistic” that production would be increased this fall.In Fort Worth on June 13, Kendall said the Pentagon hopes to raise production to 30 aircraft a year in the fall, and eventually increase the rate several times more. “Ultimately, it will mean we will get production rates to a much higher level, which will mean obviously more work here in Fort Worth,” Kendall had said.Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, who has been vocal about the program’s prior missteps, also told congressional leaders at the June 19 hearing that the program’s standing has improved.“The F-35 program is not the same program it was a number of years ago,’’ said Bogdan, the program’s executive officer. The F-35 program has been mired in controversy almost from its inception more than a decade ago. Costs have exceeded projections by as much as 70 percent, and a series of technical problems caused production delays.As a result, the estimated $400 billion defense program has drawn criticism from watchdog groups, the Government Accountability Office and leaders at the Pentagon. And some foreign nations have threatened to consider other jets because of the rising cost.Lockheed Martin has more than 14,000 employees at its west-side factory. More than 9,300 are working on the F-35 program.
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard