By Brendan McGarry
The U.S. Defense Department plans to buy eight fewer F-35 fighter jets in fiscal 2015, according to a news report.
The Pentagon will request funding for 34 of the aircraft in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, including 26 of the Air Force’s conventional model, six of the Marine Corps’ vertical-landing version, and two of the Navy’s aircraft carrier variant, according to an article by Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg News.
That’s down from 42 planes the department previously projected it would buy during the period, but up from the 29 aircraft it’s buying this year, it stated.
The Defense Department’s base budget, which excludes war funding, is expected to be about $500 billion — some $40 billion less than what the department had budgeted for the fiscal year. Congress provided partial relief to automatic budget cuts known as sequestration over the next two years, but agencies still face spending reductions.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may touch on the planned F-35 reductions when he outlines the department’s proposed budget next week before the spending plan’s official March 4 release.
“Will there be cuts across the board?” he recently said of the budget. “Of course there will. You can’t do it any other way. Are there going to be adjustments across the board? Of course. But you must preserve readiness and modernization.”
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is the Pentagon’s most expensive acquisition effort, estimated last year to cost $391 billion to develop and build a total of 2,457 F-35 Lightning IIs. The fifth-generation, single-engine jet is made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and designed to replace such aircraft as the F-16, A-10, F/A-18 and AV-8B.
In a recent segment on “60 Minutes,” titled, “Is the F-35 Worth it?” David Martin, national security correspondent for CBS News, noted that the program is seven years behind schedule and $163 billion over budget.
The piece also touched on the aircraft’s many developmental problems, including improperly installed valves, gaps in the stealth coating, wingtip lights that failed to meet Federal Aviation Administration standards, tires that blow out too frequently and software glitches impacting everything from the helmet-mounted display to the automated parts-replacement system, known as the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS (pronounced “Alice”).
And just last month, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester, J. Michael Gilmore, concluded the military’s newest and most advanced fighter jet has cracked during flight tests and isn’t yet reliable for combat operations.
Even so, military officials say the program has passed the point of no return. “I don’t see any scenario where we’re walking back away from this program,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan told Martin.
Watchdogs criticized the segment as overly optimistic. “CBS missed the big picture,” said William Hartung, the director of the Center for International Policy’s Arms & Security Project who authored a book about the aircraft’s manufacturer, titled, “Prophets of War.”
“The F-35 is overpriced and underperforming,” he said in a statement. “But is also unnecessary for addressing our most urgent 21st century threats. It’s a bad deal for taxpayers and a bad choice for our security.”
Lockheed, based in Bethesda, Md., didn’t participate in the television broadcast, but in a statement acknowledged the program’s problems. “We are working with our partners, customers and suppliers to address these challenges,” it said in a statement to the network.