UPDATE 1-Pentagon says not worried about F-35 costs/orders 'death spiral'
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., Sept 17 (Reuters) - The Air Force general who runs the Pentagon's $392 billion F-35 fighter program said on Tuesday communications with leading contractors Lockheed Martin Corp and United Technologies Corp had improved greatly in the last year.
Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan told the annual Air Force Association conference that the F-35 program was making slow but steady progress, and that he saw strong support from the U.S. military services and foreign partners.
Given that support, he said he no longer worried that the F-35 program would be afflicted by a so-called "death spiral" in which cuts in rising costs lead to lower orders which in turn further boost prices.
Bogdan said he saw no indication that the U.S. Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps planned to significantly reduce their total orders for the F-35 program, despite mounting budget pressures.
The F-35 is designed to be the next-generation fighter for decades to come for U.S. forces and their allies. The F-35 program, hit by technical faults, is several years behind schedule and 70 percent above cost estimates.
Bogdan last year described the relationship between the government and the companies building the F-35 fighter as the "worst" he had ever seen in decades of working on major weapons programs. The F-35 is the Pentagon's costliest weapons program.
Bogdan told the conference this year that he had seen great improvement in the relationship, but the plane had also made progress in flight testing, production and bringing costs down.
He said there were still areas that needed improvement, including improving the reliability of airplane parts, but his top concern was the cost of the airplane.
Bogdan said the contractors had agreed to fund and set up a "cost war room" to aggressively work on improving the longer- term cost of operating the new planes, mirroring an approach taken by the Navy on lowering the cost of its Virginia-class submarines.