The Pentagon will ask for 61 F-35 stealth fighters from the security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin Corp in its next budget, 33 less than the original plan, according to a Bloomberg report.
The US Defense Department had earlier planned to request 94 warplanes in the fiscal budget for 2023, up from 85 in this year’s budget, according to the most recent “Selected Acquisition Report" (SAR), which is used to report the status of major weapon system acquisitions to the US Congress.
The reduction in F-35 stealth warplanes is likely to figure prominently in the Biden administration’s national security budget request that is expected to reach $770 billion for the year beginning October 1.
In a statement, Lockheed said it was "premature" to speculate about the proposed budget.
A Pentagon spokesperson said the Department of Defense was not in a position to confirm “specific budget details until after the FY23 President's Budget is released.”
Last month, Reuters reported that US President Joe Biden was likely to ask Congress for a defense budget exceeding $770 billion for the next fiscal year, compared with $778 billion in 2022.
The budget will come as a big boost to major US military firms, including Lockheed, Northrop Grumman Corp, and General Dynamics Corp.
"This is a significant issue for the program," Cowen analyst Roman Schweizer was quoted as saying in the Bloomberg report, referring to the news on the US request for fewer F-35s.
He said several factors ranging from high operating and maintenance costs to difficult contract negotiations might have contributed to the development.
Laura Seal, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department’s F-35 program office, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg that budget request can be discussed “once it is delivered and released, but not before."
Armed with stealth technology, advanced sensors, weapons capacity, and range, the F-35 is the most lethal, survivable, and connected fighter aircraft ever built, according to the Lockheed Martin website.
The military contractor delivered a total of 142 F-35 fighter jets to the US and its allies last year, three more than originally planned.
The F-35 fighters are currently being deployed to Eastern Europe in the wake of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, which has alarmingly escalated tensions between Moscow and Washington.
According to the Bloomberg report, six F-35s from the Air Forces 34th Fighter Squadron are flying “air policing” missions from Estonia and Romania.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht on Monday said his country was interested in buying 35 of the warplanes.
Writing in the Responsible Statecraft, Dan Grazier said “no one is sure” if the F-35 can operate in the kind of high-threat environment Russian forces have established in Ukraine.
“It is difficult to make the case that the United States needs to bankrupt itself by spending $1.7 trillion to purchase and operate a fleet of F-35s when one of the giants it is designed to slay turns out to be a less than average mortal,” he wrote.