Cutback On F-35 In 2008 Rejected

January 5th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Cutback On F-35 In 2008 Rejected

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
January 4, 2007
Services can buy fewer fighters between 2009-13.
By Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg News
The Defense Department vetoed Navy and Air Force plans to cut the number of Lockheed Martin-made F-35 joint strike fighters they would buy next year.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England ordered the services to add $1.8 billion to their fiscal 2008 budgets. He told the Air Force to buy six fighters instead of four and the Navy, which proposed to buy no fighters in 2008, to buy six. At the same time, he agreed to let both services buy fewer aircraft than planned between 2009 and 2013.
England's orders, relayed to the service secretaries in a 60-page memo last month, reflect a desire to support the F-35, an international project and the Pentagon's largest weapons program, while still paying extraordinary costs associated with the Iraq and Afghan conflicts and meeting the Navy's commitment to increase the fleet, analysts said.
"England's decision amounts to putting his finger in the F- 35 dike," because both the Navy and Air Force are indicating "waning" support in the face of these other demands, said Thomas Ehrhard, a military-aircraft analyst for the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment in Washington.
Both services also may be asked to help fund the cost of increasing the size of the Army, an initiative Bush ordered last month, Ehrhard said.
The F-35's estimated $276 billion price tag "represents a huge chunk" of future spending, "but so far, nobody at the top is willing to pull the plug," Ehrhard said.
Kevin Wensing, a spokesman for England, declined to comment on the decision except to say that the Pentagon's leaders and "our allies are committed to this important program."
England's "Program Decision Memorandum," signed Dec. 13, is one of four directives sent to the military service secretaries, chiefs of staff and Pentagon acquisition officials that spell out spending priorities through fiscal 2013 for space, aircraft, special operations, healthcare and defense intelligence programs.
John Kent, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, said the F-35 program continues to head in the right direction.
"We're not going to conclude anything yet, but certainly this is good news on the surface," Kent said in an interview with the Star-Telegram. The F-35 had its first test flight last month.
"We're very excited to see the program move to the next level with all these new developments," he said.
The Pentagon estimates that it will spend about $231 billion over the next 20 years buying aircraft. Congress through last year has approved about $31 billion for the F-35, mostly for development.
The F-35 Lightning II is designed to be a short-range fighter that's almost invisible to radar and is capable of supporting ground troops. The program, as conceived in late 1996, envisioned the U.S. military buying 2,978 planes, including 10 for development testing. The number was reduced to 2,852 aircraft in the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review and today stands at 2,458, including 15 for development testing.
The Air Force plans to buy 1,763 planes, a number that's held since 1997. The Navy and Marines would buy 680; they originally planned to buy 1,089, but the Navy cut this number in 2002 when the Navy and Marine Corps fighter squadrons were consolidated.
Additionally, the United Kingdom is buying 138 planes, and Italy may buy as many as 131. Turkey and Australia plan to buy 100 each, the Netherlands 85, Canada 60, and Norway and Denmark 48 each.
Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based research institute, said the Navy is convinced that it can't afford all the aircraft it now plans to buy and still meet its commitment to increase the fleet by almost 30 ships by 2020.
Navy and Marine Corps officials "do not see eye-to-eye on the program," Thompson said. "Senior admirals oppose buying the Marine variant" that can take off on short fields and the smaller decks of amphibious warfare vessels, while Marine leaders question the value of the Navy version that requires the large deck of a traditional aircraft carrier, Thompson said.
Richard Aboulafia, a military-aircraft market analyst with the Teal Group in Alexandria, Va., was more sanguine about the program's prospects. The purchasing delays that England approved could be restored, and the original Navy and Air Force production schedules were too ambitious anyway, he said.
"The real budget danger was short term, so restoring the 2008 funding is good news," Aboulafia said. The production schedule "was always aggressive, but the new schedule looks realistic," he said.
England, former president of Lockheed's aircraft operations in Fort Worth, where the company is making the F-35, seemed to acknowledge in his memo the need to slow the program, directing the armed forces to adjust their budgets to "fund the development program properly."
Although the F-35 is more stealthy than the Boeing Co. F/A-18E/F that's now the centerpiece of naval aviation, "the Navy seems content" with this plane and may not be in a rush to buy the new one, Ehrhard said.
About 4,000 people work on the F-35 program at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth plant.
Staff writer David Wethe contributed to this report.

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