The Pentagon will name Vice Admiral David Venlet, commander of the Naval Air Systems Command, to run its F-35 fighter plane program, an influential defense analyst with knowledge of the plan, said on Tuesday.
Venlet will get the job after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would restructure the program because of its poor record, Lexington Institute analyst Loren Thompson said.
Thompson, who works for many of the largest defense companies and has close ties with defense officials, said he heard about the appointment from his sources within the U.S. government.
“Venlet certainly has all the experience and expertise required to manage a program of this kind,” Thompson said. “Not only does he have an engineering background and experience as a pilot, but he already manages a large organization focused on military aircraft.”
Pentagon and Navy officials had no comment beyond remarks made by Gates on Monday.
Venlet, a three-star admiral who oversees Navy and Marine aviation programs, is a former Navy fighter pilot and a test pilot. He also was a program executive officer for Navy tactical aviation programs.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the shake-up of the F-35 program, overseen by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) while announcing the Pentagon’s proposed $708 billion budget for fiscal 2011 on Monday.
Citing the program’s “troubling performance record,” he said he was docking Lockheed $614 million in performance fees and replacing the program’s Pentagon manager, Marine Corps Major General David Heinz, a two-star general, with a three-star officer.
“To now move forward in this program in a realistic way, one cannot absorb the additional costs that we have in this program and the delays without people being held accountable,” Gates told reporters on Monday.
Gates did not name the new F-35 program manager, but sources familiar with the program said an announcement was expected soon.
Heinz drew the ire of administration officials last year when he spoke of the advantages of maintaining competition for the engine that will power the F-35, despite the White House’s drive to cancel an alternate engine being developed by General Electric Co (GE.N) and Britain’s Rolls-Royce (RR.L).
The main engine for the F-35, the Pentagon’s largest acquisition program, is being built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp (UTX.N).
Lawmakers and supporters of the GE-Rolls engine seized on Heinz’s comments to underpin their arguments to keep the multibillion dollar program going, and prevailed in maintaining funding in the fiscal 2010 budget. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa. Editing by Robert MacMillan)