Firing generals

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Defence ministers everywhere – in fact all political leaders worldwide – can take a leaf from US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. He this week Monday gave his peers a good example of accountability when he sacked the general in charge of the F-35 fighter jet program and added he would withhold funds from Lockheed Martin over a series of cost overruns and delays.

“The progress and performance of the F-35 over the past two years has not been what it should,” said Gates, adding, “a number of key goals and benchmarks were not met.”

The French news agency, AFP reports the Pentagon will withhold US$614 million in performance fees. Gates said he took the decision because “the taxpayer should not have to bear the entire burden of getting the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) program back on track.”

Gates said his department also bore blame for the “troubling performance record” of the Joint Strike Fighter and fired the Marine officer in charge of the program, Major General David Heinz, who was only appointed to the post last yea. He said a higher-ranking, three-star general would take over the post, reflecting the importance of the F-35 project.

Gates has not hesitated to sack a number of top officers and officials during his tenure as defense secretary since 2006. He said the move was part of his effort to set a tone that “when things go wrong, people will be held accountable.” Both Gates and President Barack Obama have repeatedly warned that they will not tolerate the kind of delays and cost overruns that have plagued weapons programmes in the past.

Enough said.