Cornyn wants more F-35 support from Pentagon nominee
By BOB COX, Star-Telegram, August 25, 2011
Texas Sen. John Cornyn wants the man who could become the Pentagon’s No. 2 official to get fully behind the F-35 joint strike fighter program.
Cornyn sent a pointed letter Wednesday to Ashton Carter, who faces Senate confirmation hearings next month on his nomination as deputy secretary of defense, urging him to take a stronger role supporting the F-35.
In the letter, Cornyn implies that Carter, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer since 2009, has not been enough of an advocate for the F-35, despite having approved tens of billions of dollars for the program that is badly behind schedule and over-budget.
“I am concerned that the DoD’s failure to sufficiently defend and advocate for the F-35 program has enabled and even invited unwarranted criticisms from many corners, including calls for partial or complete cancellation of the program,” Cornyn said. “It is my hope that, as Deputy Secretary of Defense, you would be a champion of the F-35 program, using your voice to remind Congress that this weapon system is one our nation cannot do without. I strongly encourage you to step up your defense of this key program.”
As undersecretary of defense for acquisition under recently departed Secretary Robert Gates, Carter has repeatedly had to justify continuing the F-35 and revise development and production plans to cope with delays and cost overruns. He has said publicly and to Congress that the aircraft is vital to defense plans.
But Drew Brandewie, Cornyn’s press secretary, said the senator wants to hear Carter clearly voice support for the F-35 at his confirmation hearing, where he is likely to be grilled by one of the program’s chief critics, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
“It’s a matter of him [Cornyn] wanting to know where he [Carter] stands on this important program,” Brandewie said. “This is important to Sen. Cornyn and it’s important to Fort Worth.”
Lockheed spokeswoman Laurie Quincy said the company would not comment on Cornyn’s letter.
But Winslow Wheeler, analyst with the Center for Defense Information and an F-35 critic, said Cornyn’s letter amounts to a threat to oppose Carter’s nomination. “He’s trying to extort Carter by making menacing noises about his confirmation unless he helps the F-35 even more.”
Meanwhile, all existing F-35s have been cleared for flight. On Wednesday, the F-35 Joint Program Office cleared eight early production jets to resume flights for testing and training. The flights had been grounded for three weeks after a technical problem was discovered. A week ago, the 12 development test jets were cleared to resume flights.