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07/12/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 07/12/2019 07:10

F-35 Program Sees Changing of Guard

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- A veteran leader of multifaceted defense acquisition programs, Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, assumed the watch from Vice Adm. Mat Winter as the program executive officer for the F-35 program in a July 11 ceremony At the U.S. Navy Memorial.

'Vice Adm. Mathias Winter has served his country honorably for 35 years, and we wish him the best of luck in his continued success,' James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said in remarks at the ceremony. 'Under the Vice Adm. Winter's leadership, the F-35 program has flourished, and his efforts will serve our nation and our allies for years to come.

'I would also like to welcome the Air Force's newest lieutenant general, Eric Fick, on his promotion and appointment as the F-35 program executive officer, Geurts continued. 'He is a dedicated and accomplished leader, and I am confident he will build on the great efforts of Vice Adm. Winter to continue to deliver, support and improve the F-35 for the joint and international warfighters.'

With the change in PEO from Navy to Air Force, the program's service acquisition executive switches from Air Force to Navy, with Geurts assuming the duties.

'I look forward to taking an active role as the Service Acquisition Executive for the F-35 and working with Eric and his team, those in the department, International partners and Congress to deliver and sustain this lethal capability our military needs to compete and win,' Geurts said.

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office is the Department of Defense's agency responsible for developing and acquiring the F-35A/B/C, the next-generation strike aircraft weapon system for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and 12 allied and partner nations.

Fick entered the Air Force in September 1990 after receiving his bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Notre Dame. He has served as a logistics plans and programs officer, F-16 mechanical systems engineer, computational fluid dynamics research engineer, Joint System Program Office chief of test, Air Staff Branch chief and deputy chief of the Air Force Senate Liaison Office. Fick has commanded at the squadron and group level and served twice as an Air Force program executive officer. Additionally, he has logged more than 350 hours in the T-38, F-15, F-16 and other military and civilian experimental aircraft.

Prior to his assignment as deputy PEO, Fick was the director of global reach programs for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, responsible for $5.6 billion in airlift, air refueling, training, and special operations programs.

Fick thanked Winter for his determined leadership, vision and success across the program during his lead.

'Since he took helm of the F-35 program in 2017, Vice Adm. Winter has been passionate about ensuring the F-35 program's three lines of effort: Production, Development and Sustainment, were met to the highest standards, while meeting the challenges with vigor and constantly striving for excellence. His acquisition leadership has been steadfast, effective and decisive,' Fick said. 'His leadership skills with key F-35 enterprise stakeholders, steered us on a course for the ultimate mission accomplishment - bringing the best weapons system possible to the warfighter.'

As the F-35 PEO, Winter was responsible for overseeing the $428 billion program which simultaneously developed, tested and fielded three next generation strike fighter aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, eight international partners and four foreign military sale countries.

Winter's departure as PEO coincides with his retirement after 35 years of Navy service.

'We have proven the F-35's lethality as it has effectively carried out combat missions and participated in several multinational exercises, where it dominates the battlespace', said Winter. 'Our commitment remains to deliver affordable, effective F-35 air systems that ensure the taxpayer's investment provides the warfighter with the tools to keep our nation safe. The F-35 enterprise is growing its strategic importance around the world.'

'As the operational tempo increased, the requirement to modernize the F-35 Fleet becomes critical. We are embracing true agile acquisition processes, and are transitioning from a developmental and initial production environment to a full-rate production and continuous software modernization environment, delivering technically feasible, operationally relevant capability,' Winter added.

'It has been an honor to serve alongside so many great leaders and support our nation and allies,' he said. 'The F- 35 weapon system is now operational and forward deployed around the world. The size of the fleet continues to grow and we are rapidly expanding its capability. The F-35 is a game-changer for the air combat superiority of the United States and its allies and partners - and will be for decades to come - I know the program is in good hands as we transition leadership today to Lt. Gen. Fick.'
Winter's reflections on F-35 program

'The F-35 program is more than a program; it is truly a global enterprise built upon a broad spectrum of stakeholders joined together by a common goal - to support the warfighter with dominating capabilities,' Winter explained. 'When I first became the F-35 program PEO, I gave our warfighters, stakeholders, and JPO teammates my commitment to provide timely continuous communications, make prudent transparent decisions, and deliver on our commitments through crisp, accountable execution. These core tenets of my commander's intent focused our thinking as we transitioned to the follow on development phase, ramped up to full rate production and expanded global sustainment operations for the growing F-35 fleets and forces.'

'As the 'quarterback' for the joint force, the F-35 provides new transformational capabilities that will fundamentally change the way our nation's military operates around the globe,' Winter said. 'More than a fighter jet, the F-35's ability to collect, analyze and share data is a powerful force multiplier that enhances all airborne, sea, and ground-based assets in the battlespace, while ensuring our warfighters can execute their mission and return home safe.'

He continued: 'The F-35 program plays a central role in our National Defense Strategy, which calls for building a more lethal joint force, strengthening global alliances, and reforming business practices to enhance affordability. The F-35 weapons system is a multi-mission, next-generation strike fighter that provides our warfighters unmatched, game-changing technology in the domains of sensing, stealth, penetration, strike and interoperability.'

'The unique F-35 Partnership brings together our three U.S. Services with our eight Partner nations and four Foreign Military Sales customers, each of whom [is] integral to the planning and execution of the complete F-35 program,' Winter said. 'The F-35's projected service life extends out for more than 50 years, and to ensure the aircraft remains combat-ready and ahead of adversaries, the enterprise will continually deliver enhanced capability to the warfighter with a focus on affordability and speed.'

Pride in accomplishments, hard work of F-35 enterprise

The F-35 weapons system is meeting all its performance requirements. In 2018, the F-35 program completed the most comprehensive, rigorous, and safest developmental flight test program in aviation history. More than 9,200 sorties, 17,000 flight hours, and 65,000 test points were achieved to verify the design, durability, software, sensors, weapons capability and performance for all three F-35 variants. Ninety-one F-35s were delivered during calendar year 2018, a nearly 40% increase from the previous year. More than 55 aircraft have been delivered so far this year and we're on track to deliver 131 in 2019.

The F-35 global alliances and capabilities continue to grow. Milestones for the program's International Partners from May 2017 to July 2019 include: First Aircraft Arrivals for Norway, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia; declarations of Initial Operating Capability for Israel, Italy and the United Kingdom; and training for Korean Maintenance personnel began in January at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

In 2019, F-35 flight testing continues in support of phased capability improvements and modernization of the F-35 air system. This agile framework, known as Continuous Capability Development and Delivery, provides timely, affordable, incremental warfighting capability through technically feasible, operationally relevant improvements to maintain air dominance against evolving threats to the United States and its allies.

More than 400 F-35s are in the global fleet, and with almost 500 delivered by the end of this year. Production ramp-up will continue as operational testing concludes this summer and the program enters a full-rate production decision in the fall. To prepare, production experts from across the U.S. government are working with industry partners to make the production process 'leaner,' increase production quality, and deliver parts on time and at reduced cost. To do so, the program has incorporated a number of performance initiatives and incentives across the supply chain to support F-35 production lines in Italy, Japan and the United States.

The F-35A unit cost now sits under $89 million, the lowest price to date.

Driving down cost is critical to the success of this program, and the cost of each fighter is steadily declining. For the twelfth consecutive year, the average cost of an F-35 was lowered. More specifically, unit costs for the F-35B and F35C were lowered to $115.5 million and $107.7 million, respectively; representing a 5.7% and 11.1% reduction from previous lot aircraft - making these unit costs the lowest to date. In fact, the most common variant of the fighter now costs no more to build than the latest version of the Cold War fighters it's replacing. While at the helm, Winter's leadership drove the price down 27% across all three variants.

Goals and challenges

The F-35 Enterprise is embracing true agile acquisition processes and is transitioning from a developmental and initial production environment to a full-rate production and continuous modernization environment, while sustaining a substantial growth of global operations. This environment requires the F-35 Program to remain focused, with a true sense of urgency, to build on successes and become more agile to support the warfighter.

'To support the F-35 global fleet and the Secretary of Defense's directive to attain an 80 percent mission capability rate for the operational fleet by the end of 2019, government, international allies and industry representatives are increasing spare part supplies, accelerating depot activations, and implementing reliability and maintainability improvement plans to ensure maintainers get the parts they need, when they need them, to sustain F-35s more efficiently,' Winter said.

'To speed up repairs and lower costs, we are leveraging government capabilities at fleet readiness and air logistics centers, and we are empowering flight line workers with greater authority to streamline standard maintenance actions,' he continued. 'Though these combined sustainment and logistic actions and initiatives will improve overall F-35 readiness for the warfighter, we still face considerable challenges to realize these goals.'

'2018 was a very good year and thus far, 2019 has already surpassed last year's accomplishments with many more to come. However, challenges remain to affordability and timely capability delivery,' Winter said. 'The threats and adversaries we face today are more complex and advanced than ever before. The F-35's success is of vital importance to our national security. The F-35 enhances our international alliances and is a critical nexus for future coalition operations. It is a vast, complex, rapidly growing and accelerating program that is moving in the right direction.

'Our steadfast focus is on the continued advancement, development, delivery, and sustainment of an affordable global F-35 weapons system that supports the peace and, if called upon to do so, swiftly and decisively wins the fight every time.'

'As my tour as the program executive officer of the F-35 Joint Program Office comes to an end, I could not be more proud of the team's efforts across the enterprise,' Winter said. 'We are in a great place for the program. And the momentum that has driven us forward will no doubt continue to deliver affordable, effective capabilities to our warfighter.'