UPDATE 1-US Navy admiral to head F-35 program-analyst

* Senate confirmation needed of 3-star director

* Navy official must also be vetted by Joint Chiefs
(Adds comments from Lockheed, Naval Air Systems Command and
background on Venlet)

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (BestGrowthStock) – The Pentagon is expected to
name Vice Admiral David Venlet, commander of the Naval Air
Systems Command, to run its F-35 fighter plane program, a top
defense analyst with knowledge of the plan said on Tuesday.

Venlet, who oversees Navy and Marine aviation programs,
will get the job after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said
he would restructure the $300 billion weapons program to deal
with cost overruns and schedule delays, Lexington Institute
analyst Loren Thompson said.

“Venlet … has all the experience and expertise required
to manage a program of this kind,” Thompson said, citing his
background as an engineer and pilot, as well as his work
running the naval command responsible for military aircraft.

Thompson, who works for many large defense companies and
has close ties with defense officials, said he heard about the
appointment from his sources within the U.S. government.

Pentagon officials had no comment beyond remarks made by
Gates on Monday.

One official, who was not authorized to speak on the
record, said Venlet was a leading contender for the post but
the decision had not yet been finalized.

Any appointment to head a joint program must be vetted by
the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In addition, the Senate must confirm
the move of any three-star officer into a new job.

Venlet, a three-star admiral, is a former Navy fighter
pilot and a test pilot. He also was a program executive officer
for Navy tactical aviation programs.

Venlet was slated to retire in July. His successor, Vice
Admiral David Architzel, who is now the principal deputy
assistant secretary of the Navy for acquisition, research and
development, was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

Karen Carow, spokeswoman for Naval Air Systems Command
(Navair), said Venlet was out of the office on Tuesday, and any
news about a job change would be made by the Pentagon.

Venlet could face some questions about his leadership of a
2007 internal review of cost overruns on the Navy’s Littoral
Combat Ship program. The review failed to hold then-Navy
acquisition chief Delores Etter accountable for problems in the
program despite clear evidence that she should have exercised
more forceful oversight, said one source familiar with the

Gates announced the shake-up of the F-35 program, run by
Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N: ), on Monday, citing its “troubling
performance record.” He said he was withholding $614 million
of performance fees from Lockheed, and replacing the Pentagon’s
F-35 program manager, Marine Major General David Heinz, a
two-star general, with a three-star officer.

Lockheed’s F-35 program manager Dan Crowley told reporters
that the company had not yet been told who would get the job,
but said the company would support whomever was appointed.

He said deputy program executive officer Major General C.D.
Moore would provide important continuity for the complex
program during the management change.

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 bolster their arguments to keep the
multibillion-dollar program going, and prevailed in maintaining
funding in the fiscal 2010 budget.

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(Editing by Robert MacMillan and Steve Orlofsky)

UPDATE 1-US Navy admiral to head F-35 program-analyst