Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

F-35 program at big risk for cuts, analysts say

Dec. 4, 2012 - 08:59AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 4, 2012 - 08:59AM  |  
An F-35A Joint Strike Fighter from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., flies over coastline there on Sept. 19. A new study released by a think tank says many defense experts believe the Pentagon should decrease the number of F-35s it will purchase, or even cancel the program.
An F-35A Joint Strike Fighter from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., flies over coastline there on Sept. 19. A new study released by a think tank says many defense experts believe the Pentagon should decrease the number of F-35s it will purchase, or even cancel the program. (Master Sgt Jeremy Lock / Air Force)
  • Filed Under

Defense experts recommend scaling back purchases of the F-35 joint strike fighter or canceling the program altogether, according to a recent report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank.

  • Please enable JavaScript for your browser in order to use airforcetimes.com.com.
Want to read more?
Current Subscribers
Access to Air Force Times Prime is free for current Air Force Times subscribers.
Log in
Haven't registered online?
Activate Account
New Subscribers
Start your subscription to Air Force Times Prime for as little as 59¢ a week!
Subscribe

Defense experts recommend scaling back purchases of the F-35 joint strike fighter or canceling the program altogether, according to a recent report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank.

Over the summer, the center had experts from Congress, the Defense Department, defense industry and elsewhere look for sensible cuts to defense spending that would save roughly the same amount of money as sequestration, the automatic cuts set to kick in next year if Congress fails to reach an agreement on how to cut the deficit.

The experts formed five teams that looked for ways to trim more than $500 billion in defense spending over the next decade. The teams recommended curtailing F-35 procurement by between 120 and 360 aircraft, and one team recommended canceling the program.

The Air Force plans to buy 1,763 F-35s over the next 25 years. Officially, each plane costs $80 million, but if you include research and development and other associated costs, the F-35's price tag becomes much more expensive.

Given future challenges, the experts thought the Defense Department needs to put more money into long-range bombers and stealthy unmanned drones, which can survive in contested airspace, said Mark Gunzinger, one of the report's co-authors, in speaking with reporters at a roundtable Nov. 27.

To pay for these aircraft, the teams recommended cutting F-35 procurement over the next 10 years, said Gunzinger, who served as a senior adviser to the Air Force for the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.

"Their reasoning was, ‘Well, that might give time for the program to mature a little bit more before we proceed with full-scale procurement,' " he said.

The experts thought that the need for shorter-range aircraft will diminish going forward as the U.S. faces "anti-access area-denial" environments in which enemies can prevent U.S. forces from massing nearby by using long-range weapons to destroy U.S. air bases, aircraft carriers and aerial tankers, Gunzinger said.

"DoD, real-world, is pouring billions of dollars into fighter aircraft that will be able to survive in the air, but their bases won't be survivable," he said. "Perhaps you need to begin to question how much we're putting into that particular capability and whether we want to change the overall mix of our combat air forces toward a better balance of long- and short-range capabilities."

The Air Force believes the F-35 is "critical to defeat 21st-century threats" and is well-suited to dominate contested airspace, said Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. John Dorrian.

"As the Air Force's next 5th generation fighter, the F-35 brings next-generation capability with stealth, maneuverability and air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities," Dorrian said in an email. "In addition, [it has] superior range, cutting-edge avionics and an unparalleled sensor package and the F-35 has much more combat effectiveness than its predecessors."

Lockheed Martin, lead contractor on the F-35, declined comment on any "speculative reports."

"Our top priority is to deliver the F-35s 5th generation capability to our U.S. government customers, international partners and [Foreign Military Sales] countries while continuing to reduce overall costs," said company spokesman Michael Rein, in an email.

War's changing shape

Looking forward, the experts believed the U.S. military would fight future wars differently from the conflicts of the past decade, said Todd Harrison, the report's other author.

"The team that cut the JSF — canceled it all the way — they actually invested a lot of new resources in stealthy UAVs for strike and surveillance, I think land- and carrier-based," Harrison said. "So it's a different force, so you've got different capabilities — you've got to have longer range, those platforms."

The report comes amid the prospect of sequestration or other cuts to defense spending, which could put the Air Force in a no-win situation.

"The biggest concern I have is that the trade space will eventually come down to modernization or readiness — terrible trade space for a military service to be operating in," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told "This Week in Defense News" in September.

The Air Force is working with Lockheed Martin to determine the actual costs of flying the aircraft, Welsh said.

"It's critical that we understand this because we have to operate this in a major way: 1,763 aircraft times the number of flying hours we require per pilot per year is a lot of money," he said.

While there is an argument for buying fewer F-35s, the idea of getting rid of them is reminiscent of past arguments that tactical air power is obsolete, said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va.

"People have been predicting the end of tactical air power since 1936: ‘The bomber will always get through, you don't need that stupid Spitfire, why are you even building those Spitfires?'" Aboulafia said.

It's true that the Defense Department does need to put an emphasis on long-range aircraft, but changing the entire inventory of aircraft based on the strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region seems like "a bit of an overreaction," he said.

Answers by RallyPoint

Join trending discussions in the military's #1 professional community. See what members like yourself have to say from across the DoD.

More In News

Start your day with a roundup of top defense news.

VA Home Loan
Rates

Search By:

Product Options:
Zip Code:

News for your in-box

Sign up now for free Military Times E-Reports. Choose from Money and Education. Subscribers: log in for premium e-newsletters.


This Week's Air Force Times

This Week's Air Force Times

CrossFit vs. unit PT
Troops will do the training plans in a $2.5 million study

Subscribe for Print or Digital delivery today!

Classifieds
MilitaryTimes Green Trusted Classifieds Looking to buy, sell and connect on Military Times?
Browse expanded listings across hundreds of military installations.
Faces of valorHonoring those who fought and died in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
hall of valorThe Hall of Valor is a searchable database of valor award citations collected by Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran and Military Times contributing editor, and by Military Times staff.
Woman who cried rape
(3 replies)
   Last Post: TJMAC77SP
        May 3, 2014 1:32 PM
   Last Post: garhkal
        May 1, 2014 5:03 PM
Cliven Bundy
(45 replies)
   Last Post: Chief_KO
        Apr 26, 2014 9:49 AM
Handbooks

All you need to know about your military benefits.

Benefits handbook

Guard & Reserve All you need to know about the Guard & Reserve.

guard and reserve handbook