Congress May Cut F-35 Purchase Due To High Costs

In recent weeks elements of the US Democratic Party have voiced their dissatisfaction with the rising costs of the purchase and maintenance of the F-35 fifth generation multi-role jet. Influential figures within the party have threated budget cuts to the program which could result in a limitation of the number of jets purchased by the Pentagon in 2022. According to Bloomberg the F-35 modernization costs of Block 4 have already surged by $2 billion.

Concerns have been raised over the entire F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program with the head of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Adam Smith (Wash.-D.), calling the plan “a rathole”. He called for an immediate halt to the financing of F-35 by Congress. Smith points out that the F-35 Program failed to deliver a modern, capable defensive platform and is overpriced as a whole. However, Popular Mechanics pointed out the connections of Smith with Boeing, a rival of Lockheed-Martin and producer of the F-15EX Eagle fighter.

Australian F-35A Lighting II aircraft at Luke Air
Force Base, Ariz., June 27, 2018. Besides the US several other countries have obtained F-35 platform (US DoD)

Smith’s stance on the F-35 is rather unrealistic. The fighter has had a series of issues to deal with, however, cutting the financing is going to kill the entire project prematurely. The platform is not solely used by the US, as the UK, Norway, Japan, and Israel have procured the F-35 and there are new operators who will receive the jet this decade.

Although the costs of exploitation are higher than originally predicted, one must not rely on wishful thinking and hindsight. The main priority for the Pentagon now is to reduce the operational costs of the F-35s. Lockheed Martin, however, suggests that the costs of procurement will only drop significantly if more planes are purchased. This will naturally result in cheaper maintenance and lower flying costs.

With so much invested and no other comparable aircraft available the US F-35 procurement will continue despite protests in Congress, yet, Lockheed Martin has to be prepared for potential political moves that may result in budget cuts. Production, maintenance and operations costs of the F-35 will, however, have to be addressed if more orders from abroad are to be won. For many the procuring the F-35 is still unaffordable.