A Congressional Staffer Perspective on the F-35: “Build Planes and Get Them into the Hands of the Warfighters”

F-35As for Korea; Strategic Changes Generated from 3 Squadron Deployment (Credit Photo: Lockheed Martin)

A key member of the panel at the Heritage Foundation event on the F-35 and allies was Anthony “Lazer” Lazarski, 
Military Legislative Assistant, Office of Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK).  Lazarski is a former USAF officer with operational experience in several type model series of aircraft, and a very knowledgeable practitioner and analyst of airpower.


There’s no debate on the Hill about the need for this aircraft or the capabilities of the aircraft.

Everyone, as I’ve listened to the members up there have agreed that the United States and the allies need to operate together across a spectrum, both in a permissive and non-permissive environment.

This aircraft allows us to do it.

The issue then revolves around cost, and which is really what I want to discuss because there’s a lot of myths out there on the costs itself.

From my boss’s view, Senator Inhofe, his number one thing is we need to ensure that our military has the best equipment out there possible, and the F35 is the best aircraft that we can give the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines.

During Desert Storm, the coalition lost 30-fixed wing aircraft and 50 more were damaged.  And while the Cold War aircraft such as the 15, the 16, as well as the F18, including the latest variants are highly capable, they are increasingly vulnerable.

Their survivability is questionable with the proliferation of sophisticated air defense systems such as the double-digit SAMs and the new fighters, in the hands of some of our potential enemies today.

And then, of course, these legacy aircraft are more costly to maintain, they’re less capable and they’re all reaching the end of their service life.

And while service life extensions may be an option for the United States, and we are extending the life of some of our aircraft, it comes at a cost, and it also is not an option for many of our allies.

Purchasing fourth generation, such as the 15s and 16s is an option, but then, that also comes at a cost, but future threats put these aircraft’s survivability into question.

The United States and its allies, we have one choice and we need to go with the F35 and we need to start producing it in numbers.

Because the more we delay, the more we put our national security at risk.

And with the present budget cuts, the F35 budget, 1.6 billion and 13 and 15 billion over the next five years; with these cuts, we ill have 179 fewer planes being produced over the next five years.

This represents the third straight cut to this program by the President.

In order to save relatively small amounts of money on retrofitting, and we’ll talk about concurrency, we cut 426 F35s from a five-year spending plan in the last two budget cycles.  We thereby drive up the price of the remaining aircraft; adding tens of billions of dollars to future program costs, just to save money in the near-term.

And the short-term savings are having an immediate negative effect on our long-term readiness, our ally’s long-term readiness, and the viability of the entire F35 program.

Although, the United States hasn’t cut the number of aircraft to be procured, our international partners, as you all know, are cutting or looking at alternatives to replace the fighter fleets that they need to replace in the 2018 timeframe.

And at sea/air, many of these legacy fighters are going to exceed their service lives, and there are no service life extension plans in the program for a lot of our allies.

Delays have required the Navy to procure additional 41 FA18 aircraft and to extend the life of 50 FA18 B, Cs and Ds, from the 8,000 hours to 10,000 hours.

Again, it all comes out of cost.

The only way to get this aircraft affordable and to stop spending money on these legacy aircraft is to increase the production rate so we can go ahead and start getting the F35 out there.

Basic economics tell us the more we push these aircraft purchases to the out years, the more we increase the cost of the aircraft.

And we have all heard of the issue of concurrency.  And based on everything I’ve heard and talking to other individuals, concurrency has been well overstated.

Back in the 1990s, the United States Government looked at the most affordable aircraft program, which was the F16 and decided to model the F35 on the F16 program.

Concurrency was built into the F35 program in order to ramp up production like we did with the F16 to save tens of billions of dollars.

The F16 built over 426 aircraft in the first four years of production, and reached a production rate of 400—or 200 per year in the fourth year of production.

In comparison, as we start looking at the F35, we have removed 425 F35 early production aircraft just in the last three budget cycles.

While the Department of Defense cut the low-rate initial productions by 425 over the three budget cycles, shifts them to the out years, it’s strictly over fears of about a 10 to $20 million per jet concurrency cost.

But yet, as we look back to lot 6 and lot 7 of the F35, it’s less than 5 million per jet.

And while I cannot do math in public, so having written this down, so the quick math is we cut $1.4 billion out of funding for 13 jets from FY13 seven build, only to avoid a concurrency rate of $65 million, which doesn’t make sense.

Meanwhile, we’re absolutely missing out on a proportionate significant savings, roughly ten times of the amount, or 40 to $50 million a jet that we believe that we can save by going ahead and ramping up the U.S. and international production to get over 200 F35s a year.

What’s concurrency?

It’s things we have to go back or fix.  And when you look at it, one of the things they look at is cracks.  And they discuss this, and they look at it during durability testing.  And there were a total of 55 cracks across the three variants, one-fourth of the F22, which was 220, and one-fiftieth of the total crack experienced by the F18, which was over 2,500.

And it happens, as we’ve discussed.  We have cracks.  It happens, especially with new aircraft.  There are hotspots.

But again, going from around 200 for the F22, the F16 had about 2,000, and the total number of cracks in the F35 have been three so far that we found.

Let’s talk about cost overruns.  Roughly, $93 billion overrun, once you take out inflation escalators, and bottom line, that is unacceptable.

We cannot accept that amount of overruns.

But the overrun runs in two parts.

Seventeen percent of it is development, 83 percent is in production.  And that’s with future aircraft.

So, we’re estimating what these future aircraft are going to cost.

If we look at the development overrun, we’ve all agreed, there’s been problems with the aircraft; Lockheed’s is at fault for some overweight design.  There were some additional 20,000 test points put in and two to three years of additional testing.  And we can discuss that if you want.

But then, when you look at the 83 percent of the overrun is almost all the directive moving over 1,163 aircraft from early production years to late production years, then you start looking at we’re not ramping up to the 200-240 aircraft we were going to do a year, but we’ve dropped it to 180.

We can recover a large amount of cost if we can go ahead and accelerate this aircraft and start producing it in numbers.

The F35 has exceeded flight test goals in 2010, 2011, 2012, it’s 15 percent ahead of schedule—or was 15 percent ahead of schedule in 2011 and 20 percent ahead of schedule this year.

The aircraft are flying operational.  There are pilots that fly in those aircraft that are not test pilots.  They are pilots that have been trained in that aircraft.

All three of the variants of the planes are surpassing expectations.

I’ve talked with our allies, the aircraft that we are kicking off the line today are better than the aircraft that we’re flying, such as the 15s, the 16s and the 18s.

We talked about the upgrades on the software, and again, it’s just like the 22. This is a whole new way of looking at what we’re doing.

And the aircraft will only continue to get better.

The only way to go ahead and bring this down, the overall cost, is to go ahead and ramp up production.  And then, we will come back and with the concurrency rates that are less than 5 million; we will save overall money if we can just expedite the production of the aircraft.

And for Senator Inhofe, he’s been down to Fort Worth.  He’s seen the production line, talked to the guys, talked to the crews.

And you’re right, the only way you’re going to know about the aircraft or how it is to get people down and understand the capabilities and what the limitations, if there are because we hear that there’s integration problems.

And I’m not aware of any issues that are outstanding.  I’ve got the list of issues, I’ve talked with the pilots, I’ve talked with Lockheed, and I am not aware of any outstanding issues that would not allow us to kick this out the door and start flying this aircraft today.

Highlights from Q and A:

Question from the Norwegian Counselor at the Norwegian Embassy:

For Norway, the acquisition of the F35 is a huge investment.  But it’s a price we’re willing to pay because it’s an investment in our future security for decades to come.  And the Norwegian Government has decided that we need the best airplane to meet our unique Norwegian security challenges.

And the F35, as far as we have been able to ascertain is the only aircraft that can do that.  And that is why we are so committed to the F35.

So, my question is how important is the F35 for the U.S. to meet future American security challenges?

Answer: I’ll take it from a congressional point of view.  It’s a national security issue.

There is no other fighter being produced right now.  The F35 is going to have to get out there.  We’ve got aging F15s.  The average age of our fighter fleet is around 28 years old.

And it’s getting older.  And we have to recapitalize that fleet, and the only aircraft out there to recapitalize that fleet right now is the F35.

And that’s what we’re moving forward with.

Question: How good is this aircraft going to be at its close air support role?

Answer: The capabilities of this aircraft, like the 22, is really only limited by your imagination.

We don’t know everything that we can do with this aircraft.  We can do close air support like we traditionally do now.

However, because we’ve got the maneuverability, we’ve got the weapons, we’ve got the precise targeting, we can imagine new ways to do close air support.

And how can we do a better job of keeping the situational awareness on the ground as well as in the air?

Because the way we multitask, it’s bringing the Internet into the battlefield where everybody is sharing information instantaneously.

We’ve just got to figure out how best to use it to improve our capabilities on the ground.

And that’s going to be, honestly, the best part of this aircraft when it gets out there and the warfighters then innovate.

Question from Journalist: When do you think that IOC for the aircraft will happen?

Answer: If you don’t produce aircraft, you don’t get IOC.

That’s really the bottom line. What we need to do is produce aircraft.

And I think it’s the next thing is to get it in the hands of the war fighter and let them fly.

Kick the aircraft out the door, put them in squadrons, let them work the IOC, and let them work out the bugs.

Concluding Remark:

The discussions up on the hill come down to cost.  And we’ve discussed how we can reduce cost on this aircraft.

We can argue all we want about what happened in the past with the development costs and the overruns.  And that could be a great war college discussion that we probably will have in years to come.

But where we are right now with the aircraft, it’s ready to move forward, ready to accelerate production.  And that really is the bottom line.

That aircraft coming off the line today is better than what our allies have and what we have today.

And so, there is no reason why not to accelerate production.

Instead of kicking it down the road and spending billions of more dollars, recoup that money, get it out there, get it into the hands of the war fighter so we could actually operationalize it.


Senator Inhofe provided a very useful overview of Col. Lazarski’s career at the time of announcing his new role as the Senator’s military advisor.

Mr. INHOFE. Madam President, I am here today to recognize and pay tribute to COL Anthony J. “Lazer” Lazarski, Chief of the Air Force Senate Liaison, for his 25 years of exceptional service and dedication to the U.S. Air Force and our great country. Colonel Lazarski is a command pilot with over 2,300 flight hours in 12 different types of aircraft, including the RF-4, F-15, F-16, F-111 and F-117.

He has supported combat operations around the world, to include the Libya Raid and Operations Desert Storm, Desert Fox, Allied Force, Southern Watch, and Iraqi Freedom. Throughout his military career, he has been recognized by his superiors and subordinates as a leader in the air and on the ground–an Airman with the ability to motivate and lead.

COL Lazer Lazarski grew up in North Arlington, NJ, and watched them build the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center from the basement up. He earned an appointment to the Air Force Academy and graduated in 1982 with military honors. Upon completion of pilot training, he was selected to fly the F-111 and earned the distinction of Top Gun for both his T-38 Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals class and his F-111 Replacement Training Unit class.

While flying in Tactical Air Command with the 79th NATO Tigers at RAF Upper Heyford, he was selected as the wing’s youngest instructor pilot. Shortly thereafter, he was selected as the youngest United States Air Forces in Europe flight examiner. As a pilot, I can attest to the fact that you only allow your sharpest and most mature pilots to set, evaluate, and enforce the standards for other pilots.

I happen to be a flight instructor currently. I can assure you, they are the very best people. This is a major accomplishment he was able to achieve.

Colonel Lazarski later transitioned to the F-117 Stealth Fighter and earned Top Gun in his third aircraft, this time during a Southern Watch deployment over the skies of Iraq. Colonel Lazarski demonstrated he could not only deliver precise weapons on target on time, he could also motivate and lead others. In recognition of his extraordinary leadership, he was named 12th Air Force Flight Commander of the Year, and selected to attend the Naval War College.

After graduating from the Naval War College in 1994, he served 3 years in Naples, Italy at NATO Headquarters, including as the aide-de-camp to two different Commanders, Allied Air Forces in Southern Europe. One of these Commanders was then LTG Mike Ryan, who would later become Air Force Chief of Staff. During his tour, he was one of the first combat troops on the ground in Sarajevo as he helped set up the NATO Air Operations Center.

In 1997, he transitioned to the F-15 Strike Eagle, serving as the 336th Fighter Squadron Assistant Operations Officer and deployed commander from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, NC. During this tour he also served as Chief of the Command Post and integrated new command and control systems to include hurricane tracking/forecasting systems put to test in 3 years of multiple hurricanes.

In 2001 he graduated No. 1 from his Air War College Class, earning the Wright Brothers Officership Award and Military Outstanding Volunteer Medal. This honor earned him the right to serve the next year at Vance Air Force Base, in my home state of Oklahoma as the Deputy Operations Group Commander.

Due to the superb leadership Colonel Lazarski demonstrated at Vance, he was selected as the Director of Air Combat Command’s Commander Action Group–the strategic “think tank” for our Air Force’s lead combat command. In this position he was given the immense responsibility for developing strategy, doctrine, concepts, tactics and procedures for U.S. air and space power employment.

Colonel Lazarski’s next assignment led him back to command, this time in Air Education Training Command as the Commander of the 479th Flying Training Group where he was responsible for training new pilots in the T-6, and new fighter pilots and weapons officers in the T-38. Colonel Lazarski oversaw 115 aircraft averaging 300 sorties a day, and despite five hurricanes in one season, no student ever graduated late under Colonel Lazarski’s leadership.

In 2005 at the culmination of an exceptional military career, Colonel Lazarski was reassigned to Capitol Hill as the Chief of the Air Force Senate Liaison Division. Here Colonel Lazarski integrated his remarkable experience and leadership with ceaseless integrity, initiative, and persistence to result in unparalleled effectiveness on behalf of the Air Force and our Nation.

We offer our sincere thanks to Colonel Lazarski, his wife Stephanie, and their son Andrew for their unwavering support of our country and the freedom we hold so dear. We congratulate Colonel Lazarski on the completion of an exemplary active-duty career. Utilizing the theme from one of my favorite books, Message to Garcia, let me close by saying: Message delivered and job well done! Now a new mission awaits you, and I’m honored to have you serve your country again, this time as my Military Legislative Assistant. Congratulations and welcome!