TCS Daily

Don't Play Politics With The Joint Strike Fighter

By Duane D. Freese - November 2, 2001 12:00 AM

Even though Lockheed Martin just beat Boeing in the four-year marathon competition for the design and production contract of the military's advanced Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), some members in Congress are making it run another gauntlet.

Republican Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond of Missouri is demanding that Boeing get a share of the $200 billion deal, the largest defense procurement contract ever. "Our continued national security over the long-haul requires two separate production lines building full-up Joint Strike Fighter aircraft," he said.

Bond's concern? He says the nation needs the extra production line for the JSF as "an insurance policy" in case the nation needs to ramp up production quickly, as occurred in World War II.

Not coincidentally, that "insurance policy" would reap big benefits in Bond's home state since Boeing would have built the JSF in St. Louis. The giant commercial airline maker acquired a fighter plant there when it took over McDonnell Douglas.

Bond wants Boeing to build two of the three variants of the planned strike fighter. "It makes sense for Boeing to build the Navy and Marine Corps variants," he said, because "St. Louis is the home to naval aviation." If that were to happen, Lockheed Martin would build the 1,763 Air Force models while Boeing builds the other 1,239.

But that would prove a strange turnaround considering that "the Lockheed Martin team was the clear winner," according to Air Force Secretary James Roche, who was in charge of the selection process. Other Air Force officials had previously told Business Week before the award that "The Lockheed design wins hands down."

And giving Boeing half of the production could add huge costs to the JSF program, which was designed as a winner-take-all competition to save money.

According to a study done for the Defense Department by the Rand Corporation, inefficient production runs and other overhead would undercut the savings that evolved from having Boeing and Lockheed compete on Joint Strike production.

Indeed, total cost for the program could jump 20% -- costing taxpayers anywhere from $40 billion to $60 billion extra. That's a lot of money to pay for only marginal increases in production capacity. And the added capacity provided by Boeing would lead Lockheed to reduce its capacity, meaning most of the cost would be for overhead - just what the Defense Department hoped to avoid.

Nonetheless, Lockheed Martin's Dain Hancock, president of the aeronautics division, said, "We'll do what the government wants."

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