The US Air Force is likely to slash its purchases of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets to save money, a new study has revealed, a new threat to the costly program’s sustainability.
After complaining about the costly stealth aircraft’s delayed and problematic development, the USAF is now worried that the massive orders it has placed for the F-35 might hinder modernization and maintenance of its current fleet.
To do this, the USAF might be forced to cut the overall purchase by 38 percent, reducing the program’s working project of 1,763 jets by nearly one third, or 590 aircraft, Bloomberg reported, citing an internal USAF study.
Today, at least 270 F-35s are being operated by the USAF as well as the US Navy and the Marine Corps.
Last year, after immense pressure by President Donald Trump to drive down costs, the US Department of Defense and Lockheed agreed on costs of $94.6 million for the F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant used by the USAF; $122.8 million for the F-35B, the USMC’s short takeoff and landing variant; and $121.8 million for the F-35C, the US Navy variant designed for takeoff and landing on aircraft carriers.
The USAF must foot an annual bill of around $3.8 billion to operate the warplanes. Recently, the Pentagon revealed that it would need about $16 billion to maintain and upgrade the F-35 jets it has already purchased and deployed through 2024.
"It’s premature for the Air Force to consider buying fewer aircraft at this time,” Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanik told Bloomberg.
Commonly referred to as the world’s most expensive weapon, the F-35 project has been dogged by technical problems and software issues. The program has been in progress over the past 17 years, missing its original development targets by over a decade.
Following a decision by Congress, the F-35 program is scheduled to deliver 90 new jets this year, 20 more than what was initially planned. The peak production rate would reach 160 new jets per year by 2023, according to reports.