Congressional Appropriators Boost F-35 Production

by Shaun McDougall, Military Markets AnalystForecast International.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is poised for a boost in 2019, as two U.S. congressional defense panels have signed off on additional aircraft for the Department of Defense.  Precisely how many additional aircraft each service will receive must be ironed out in conference committee.  This plus-up contrasts with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, both of which expressed concern about the F-35 production ramp-up. 

The DoD requested funding for 77 F-35s in its FY19 budget, comprising 48 F-35As, 20 F-35Bs, and nine F-35Cs.  The Senate Appropriations Committee, which passed its version of the FY19 defense spending bill on June 28, inserted $1.2 billion for an additional 12 F-35s: four F-35Bs and eight F-35Cs.  The committee also recommends adding $120 million for F-35A advance procurement to increase the Air Force’s planned buy in FY20.  The service currently projects buying 48 F-35As in FY20.

The House Appropriations Committee has already signed off on increasing F-35 production, adding a total of 16 aircraft to its version of the FY19 spending bill.  The variant breakout differs from the Senate bill, and comprises eight F-35As, two F-35Bs, and six F-35Cs.

Neither the House nor Senate Armed Services Committees recommended increasing the F-35 buy in FY19.  In fact, the Senate panel actually recommended reducing Air Force procurement by one aircraft.  Both armed services committees expressed concern that a steep ramp-up in F-35 production over the coming years will place a strain on the military’s sustainment efforts.  The committees tasked the DoD with reducing F-35 sustainment costs, and prioritizing spare parts and depot repair capabilities.

The Senate Armed Services Committee also discussed F-35 Block 4 modernization, now referred to as the F-35 continuous capability development and delivery (C2D2) effort.  The Senate noted the high retrofit costs that would be entailed in providing F-35s with required capabilities, and wants the DoD to provide quarterly reports to Congress on the F-35 program.  At the same time, the House cited a report from the director of operational test and evaluation that said the C2D2 plan is not executable in its current form, in part due to a lack of test aircraft. The committee therefore believes the DoD should eventually procure an additional six new test aircraft (two of each of the three variants) to support the C2D2 effort.

As editor of International Military Markets, North America, Shaun has cultivated a deep understanding of the vast defense markets in the United States and Canada. Further, Shaun played an integral role in the development of Forecast International’s U.S. Defense Budget Forecast product, which offers an unprecedented level of insight into the Pentagon’s acquisition budget.

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