Pentagon scraps orders for Lockheed's C-130J

Cargo plane rated poor in performance, reliability

February 02, 2005|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

WASHINGTON - Lockheed Martin Corp.'s C-130J transport program will end after 2007, in large part because the aircraft has a record of poor performance and reliability, the Pentagon's former top tester said yesterday.

The program's history of flaws had much to do with the decision, Thomas Christie, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation, said in an interview on his last day before retiring.

The cancellation was included in a Dec. 23 budget document signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. The Pentagon plans to save more than $5 billion by ending the C-130J program in fiscal 2007 and scrapping the purchase of 61 aircraft planned through 2011. Rising budget deficits and Iraq war costs are forcing the Pentagon to cut $30 billion from military programs.

Once the White House requested budget cuts, it "looked for a couple of programs that had poor track records, and that was one," Christie said, referring to the C-130J, each of which costs about $67 million. "The test data over the years indicated we had a lot of problems with the airplane."

The proposed cancellation is subject to approval in Congress, where there has been opposition to ending the program.

The aircraft's problems include "hardware deficiencies, software and technical order deficiencies, manufacturing quality, subsystem reliability and failure to meet required measures of system effectiveness and resolution of documented deficiencies," Christie wrote in his 2004 annual report, which was released Jan. 18.

"It's not a stellar performance by Lockheed, nothing to brag about," Christie, 70, said.

Lockheed spokesman Peter Simmons declined to address Christie's remarks directly yesterday but reaffirmed earlier statements that the annual report "is inaccurate in its characterization of the aircraft and its capabilities."

"The aircraft has been in combat operation for years in Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters around the world where it has performed up to and above expectation," Simmons said in an e-mail yesterday. "The aircraft went from first flight to combat in six years, an outstanding achievement by any standard."

Bethesda-based Lockheed has spent about $1 billion to develop the C-130J since the 1990s, including as much as $300 million to remedy deficiencies, the Air Force said in August. The aircraft is designed to replace C-130 E and H versions, about half of which are more than 30 years old.

Two years ago, the Air Force placed a $4.1 billion, five-year contract for 60 transports. It has taken delivery of 37 of them. Lockheed, the No. 1 defense contractor, has delivered a total of 59 to the Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Lockheed has received a total of 180 orders from the air forces of the United States, Australia, Denmark, Italy and the United Kingdom. It has delivered 121.

The planes are built in Marietta, Ga. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, wrote a letter to President Bush Jan. 10 to protest the C-130J cuts, as did 24 U.S. senators, including Georgia Republicans Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. They said scrapping the program would result in having to spend billions of dollars to maintain older planes.

Lockheed said it has C-130J subcontractors in 23 states, including Florida, Utah, Colorado, South Carolina, Kansas, New Jersey, Texas and Mississippi.

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