F-35 program director in Valley, responds to criticism - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

F-35 program director in Valley, responds to critical reports

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LITCHFIELD PARK, AZ (CBS5) -

Two government reports released just weeks apart highlight financial and sustainability concerns surrounding the F-35, the fighter jet that will replace Luke Air Force Base's aging fleet of F-16s.

By this time next year, Luke AFB will be phasing out the F-16 to make room for the stealthy and more capable F-35.

CBS5 told you last August when Luke AFB was chosen as the primary location for training F-35 pilots.

Officials with Lockheed Martin, which developed the F-35 program, indicate the F-35's impact in Arizona could bring 1,100 direct and indirect jobs in 17 different locations with a total estimated economic impact of $90 million.

Luke AFB is expecting as much as $150 million from the federal government for infrastructure upgrades and additions to make room for and sustain the new F-35 program.

The F-35 program has faced harsh criticism from government leaders over cost overruns and technological delays.

Just within the past month, the Department of Defense issued a report indicating the reliability of the F-35 was coming in below expectations.

Also recently, the Government Accountability Office, GAO, released a report questioning the long-term affordability of the F-35 for the U.S. military.

The DOD report, for example, highlights what it refers to as "design flaws" with the aircraft, such as the pilot head rest being too large and thus reducing visibility. A problem mitigated, a top official says, by the technologically advanced helmet that F-35 pilots will wear.

"So the pilot can sit in the seat day or night and look around and see through the structure of the aircraft. See the ground. See whatever. So little things like a seat behind you don't have the same affect that they would today," says F-35A program director Daniel Conroy, with Lockheed Martin.

"It is ready for Luke," Conroy says. "This is an effort in progress. It's almost like making sausage. You don't wanna look at that sausage, you wanna see it when it comes out."

Significant construction projects are ongoing in the middle of Luke AFB right now. A squadron building and maintenance facility are under construction. A simulator facility will be under construction shortly. Ten to 12 flight simulators will arrive over the next two years, according to a Lockheed Martin official.

"It brings tremendous improvements over our current fighters," says 56th Fighter Wing Vice Commander Col. Robert Webb. "Like going from a Corvette to a super car."

The first fleet of jets are scheduled to touch down at Luke AFB in the spring of 2014. Pilot training is slated to begin a few months after that.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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