WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program will be restructured to increase oversight for a program U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said missed key benchmarks.
Gates also said he is withholding $614 million in performance fees from the lead contractor, Lockheed-Martin, "since the taxpayers should not have to bear the entire burden of getting the JSF program on track," the Defense Department reported Tuesday in a release.
"We have restructured the F-35 program and believe it is on track to become the backbone of U.S. air superiority for the next generation," Gates said Monday during a news conference. "Nonetheless, the progress and performance of F-35, over the last two years, has not been what it should, as a number of key goals and benchmarks were not met."
The Joint Strike Fighter program office will see a change in leadership, Gates said. A three-star officer, who hasn't been named, will replace Marine Maj. Gen. David R. Heinz.
The F-35 is the first aircraft to be developed to meet the needs of three services, with three sets of service-specific variables being developed simultaneously. The combined effort brings with it cost savings and economies of scale not possible with separate aircraft because the F-35s will share common components and maintenance requirements, Gates said.
The problems the program faces can be overcome, Gates said, if proper steps are taken.
"I believe that we are in a position to now move forward with this program in a realistic way," he said. "But by the same token, one cannot absorb the additional costs that we have in this program and the delays without people being held accountable."