Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced March 16, 2010 that President Barack Obama had nominated Vice Adm. David J. Venlet for reappointment to the rank of vice admiral and assignment as director of the Joint Strike Fighter program.
Gates announced the firing of the previous director of the JSF program, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David Heinz, Feb. 1, 2010, during testimony before congress on the FY11 defense budget. “One cannot absorb the additional costs in this program and the delays without people being held accountable,” Gates said then during a question and answer period in the proceedings.
The unprecedented appointment of a three-star to run the program is one indication of the importance of JSF to Gates and the administration.
Venlet currently commands Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Md. He previously served as program executive officer, Tactical Air Programs and commanded Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division with responsibility for Navy weapons and systems RDT&E and fleet support capabilities at China Lake and Point Mugu, Calif. He served as NAVAIR Assistant Commander for Test and Evaluation, and for Shore Installation Management, according to his official Navy biography.
On Aug. 19, 1981, then-Lt. Venlet was RIO aboard a VF-41 Tomcat piloted by Cdr. Hank Kleeman when they were fired on by two Libyan Sukhoi Su-22 “Fitters” over the Gulf of Sidra. Kleeman and Venlet shot down one of the Fitters and the other was accounted for by their wingmen, Lt. Lawrence Muczynski and Lt. J.G. James Anderson, in another Black Aces Tomcat.
After redesignation as a naval aviator he flew with VF-143 as an F-14 pilot deployed aboard USS Dwight D Eisenhower. He next served in Fleet Replacement Squadron VF-101 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana as a Tomcat instructor pilot and A-4 adversary pilot.
Venlet served as a test pilot at Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River. In 1991 he performed the first carrier landing of the T-45 on USS John F Kennedy (CV 67). He is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
Tours in Naval Air Systems Command include the F/A-18 program in various capacities including class desk officer and deputy program manager. He was executive assistant to the commander, Naval Air Systems Command and served as PMA-259, program manager for air-to-air missiles involving AIM-9X development.
Venlet graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He is a graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School and U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. He has a BS in Systems Engineering and a MS in Aerospace Engineering.