Transcript of the Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Admiral Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room about the F-35 to return to flight and its missing of the Farnborough Show.
(…/…) My second comment is about the F-35. As you know, yesterday, the airworthiness authorities for the U.S. Navy and Air Force approved the F-35 to return to flight. This is a limited flight clearance that includes an engine inspection regimen and a restricted flight envelope, which will remain in effect until the root cause of the June 23rd engine mishap is identified and corrected.
That said, I can confirm that the Department of Defense in concert with our partners in the U.K. has decided not to send Marine Corps and U.K. F-35B aircraft across the Atlantic to participate in the Farnborough air show. This decision was reached after a consultation with senior leaders and airworthiness authorities, despite the decision by airworthiness authorities to clear the aircraft to return to flight — to limited flight.
When we — when we operate aircraft, we look at many factors, to include operational risks, the weather, ground time, maintenance issues. All of these factors were weighed appropriately in making this difficult decision. And while we’re disappointed that we’re not going to be able to participate in the air show, we remain fully committed to the program itself and look forward to future opportunities to showcase its capabilities to allies and to partners.
As Secretary Hagel has made clear, safety as always remains our top priority. And we’ll continue to provide you up-to-date information as we can and as it becomes available.
With that, I’ll take your questions. Bob?
Q: Just — based on what you just said about the F-35, it’s not clear to me why you — why you would be unable to send it to England if it’s — you’re able to fly them again.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, again, I said there’s a limited flight envelope here. So there’s a couple of things. One is…
Q: What is that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, I can give you those parameters, but let me — before I do that, let me get to the bigger question here. It is — it’s a restricted return to flight, so it’s not completely unrestricted. And I’ll give you the parameters in just a second.
Secondly, there’s a timing issue here. The air show started already and just the physical act of getting there makes timing critical. And I think nobody in senior leadership wanted to rush to do this for the sake of the air show. Not that the air show’s not important, not that we didn’t want to go, but I think everybody believed given the parameters around the restrictions on the flight, the flight envelopes, and given the timing, that this was the most prudential and safe decision. And as I said before, Secretary Hagel has made it pretty clear that safety is going to be paramount here.
So on the — on the flight envelope restrictions, right now, the aircraft are limited to a max speed of 0.9 Mach, 18 degrees of angle of attack. They can go from minus one to a positive three Gs and a half a stick deflection for rolls.
More critically, after three hours of flight time, each front fan section of the — of each engine has to be inspected with a borescope. So after every three hours of flight time, you got to do a borescope inspection of the front fan section of the engine. That was a pretty significant limitation in terms of being able to fly them across the Atlantic.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, no, I mean, that’s — that’s — that — of all those restrictions, that’s probably the most important one when it came to making the decision about whether you’re going to fly them across the Atlantic, because after three hours of flight, they have to be inspected. So I don’t know. Did that — did that get to your question?
Q: (OFF-MIC) more broadly a lot of critics are going to seize on this as a big defeat for the F-35.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Could you put in perspective — it’s going to an air show to entertain flight enthusiasts. Is this a — what kind of a setback is this to the overall program’s perception?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It — first of all, we remain committed to the program. We’re actually glad for the news today to be able to get the aircraft back in the air, even if it is limited. We fully expect to work our way through this problem and restore the full operational capability in the near future.
This by no means should signal any lack of commitment to the F-35 or to its future in the U.S. military or in those militaries of partner nations that want to — that want to purchase it. It’s the — it’s the next-generation fighter aircraft, and we remain committed to that.
Not the first aircraft to have problems like this. It’s not going to be the last. New programs often go through these kinds of challenges. We’re confident that we’re going to get through this.
And I would also add that, you know, after all the inspections and the work — now, I want to caveat this, because the investigation is not complete yet, but we haven’t seen anything that points to a systemic issue across the fleet with respect to the engine. Again, that can change. I want to caveat that right off the bat, but the point is that — that leadership feels increasingly comfortable and confident in working the aircraft back to flight.
Q: (OFF-MIC) did Secretary Hagel call his counterpart in the U.K. to let him know this is not coming over?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have — we have — I mean, as I said at the outset, the U.K. authorities were completely in consultation with this decision and helped make this decision. So we’ve been in constant touch and communication with them throughout this thing. Yeah.
Q: Admiral, on the F-35 decision, can you please tell us when that was made, as quick — you know, as much as you know, and who actually made it? Did Secretary Hagel decide this or somebody in the program office at a lower level?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The decision — the first decision was this morning. I think you saw my announcement about the return — the limited return to flight. That was made last evening. And then, you know, communicated to authorities there in the U.K. appropriately. So we were able to announce that this morning.
And then — and then the decision not to go to Farnborough was actually made within the last couple of hours. And, I mean, ultimately that decision for the Marine Corps variant fell to the commandant of the Marine Corps. For the U.K., obviously, for their own — and I don’t know exactly who in the — in the government at the U.K. made the decision for their — for their Bs [F-35B] but for us, the commandant ultimately made that decision and the secretary fully supports it.
And I would also say, as I said at the outset, the airworthiness authorities for the Air Force and the Navy also had a role in shaping that decision.
Q: Did the secretary have a veto that he chose not to use or did the commandant have the ultimate authority here (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The secretary made it very clear from the very beginning that — that he was not going to push pressure on the airworthiness authorities or the services either way. His only — his only guidance was safety will be paramount. I don’t want safety to be — to be impaired at all here.
So he was — that was his only guidance. He trusts the service leadership and the airworthiness authorities to make the best decision, you know, based on what’s good for the aircraft and, more importantly, what’s good for the crew.
(end of excerpt)
U.S. Department of Defense; Press Briefing; issued July 15, 2014