The Air Force is deferring 45 F-35As from its budget request over the next five years, essentially stretching out the program’s planned production ramp over the next decade.
The Air Force is absorbing the biggest F-35 cut of the three services that will operate Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation fighter jet, but the Pentagon’s overall buy will also drop across the five-year defense plan, comptroller Mike McCord told reporters Tuesday. The announcement comes as the Pentagon was preparing to drastically ramp up production of the aircraft over the next decade.
The reduction to 404 total Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps F-35s over the next five years is not expected to produce a significant change in the unit cost, McCord said. However, it is not clear the Pentagon will be able to get back to the planned production rate, he said.
Although the Air Force cut alone is not hugely significant in the context of the thousands of aircraft the Pentagon intends to buy over the next decade, the near-term Air Force reduction could impact the unit price of the plane. Some analysts believe the deferral could have a domino effect on the program, potentially spooking international partners.
Doug Birkey, executive director of the Mitchell Institute, cautioned that the Pentagon must be extremely careful when playing with the F-35 numbers.
The second you start bringing down numbers or you delay things, the price goes up, and so it’s a risk factor