With wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, and military budgets growing year over year, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld paid little attention to the program. His successor, Robert M. Gates, took the same approach during his first few years on the job. In 2007, the Defense Department permitted Lockheed to begin producing the fighter — before the first flight tests had even begun. Frank Kendall, who is now the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, has called that decision “acquisition malpractice.”
Early tests uncovered flaws unnoticed by the computer simulations. Key engineering tasks, including the vertical takeoff and landing system, were taking much longer to complete. All the while, costs were rising at supersonic speeds.
In 2009, Gates grasped the dysfunction. The following year, he withheld $614 million in fees from Lockheed, fired the two-star Marine general in charge of the program and brought in a Navy vice admiral, David Venlet, to clean house. In 2011, Gates placed the Marine plane on probation, warning that it would be killed if problems with its propulsion system were not fixed quickly.
Bogdan, who served as Venlet’s deputy until December, when he took charge of the development effort, was astounded by what he found when he delved into the program.
“It was an unimaginable mess,” he said.
An imposing former test pilot who wears an olive flight suit to his office in Crystal City, Bogdan spent his first two years on the job analyzing virtually every aspect of how the plane is designed and built. He and Venlet adjusted schedules and assumptions, and they implemented changes that brought the Marine version off probation. New goals call for aggressive testing and modifications over the next five years, and the start of full-rate production by 2018.
Bogdan thinks the program cannot afford another do-over. “There is no more money and there is no more time,” he said.
To stay on track, he has adopted a get-tough approach with Lockheed and Pratt & Whitney, the contractor building the plane’s engine. Instead of allowing Lockheed to manage the development of millions of lines of software code for the plane — one of the most vexing technical challenges — his office, which has now grown to 2,000 people, is taking charge. “We have forced discipline on them,” he said of Lockheed.