U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Manager Feb. 1, saying someone must be held accountable for the program's delays and cost overruns.
News of the dismissal of U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David R. Heinz came at the beginning of a media briefing about the fiscal 2011 defense budget. The proposed budget, which must be approved by Congress, includes $10.7 billion for 43 F-35s.
Gates did not name a replacement for Heinz but did say he will upgrade the position from a two-star billet to a three-star billet. A Pentagon spokesman did not know if the Program's Deputy Manager, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. C.D. Moore, will take over in an acting role.
In addition to firing Hines, Gates announced the Defense Department is withholding $614 million in performance fees from the F-35's lead maker, Lockheed Martin. The company will not oppose the action, he said.
Late last year, an internal Pentagon report showed the new stealth fighter was so far behind schedule that DoD would have to spend as much as $16.6 billion to get its largest weapons program back on track. At that time, Pentagon acquisitions chief Ashton Carter told Lockheed Martin officials that the company would have to help pay the cost overruns.
The Annual Report of the Pentagon's Director of Operation Test and Evaluation, released in January, showed the F-35 program flew only 16 of the 168 test flights scheduled for 2009. The test flights could not be flown due to delays in aircraft deliveries, which set the program back another year.