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Pentagon Reportedly Mulls Large JSF Cut

Posted by Colin Clark on

National Harbor: The Pentagon is reportedly weighing the benefits and risks of slashing 100 planes from the planned purchase of 2,443 Joint Strike Fighters.

Steve Burbage, Lockheed Martin’s executive vice president in charge of the JSF program, said at the Air Force Associaton’s annual conference that he wasn’t aware of any such discussions. Burbage repeated standard Lockheed warnings that cuts would slow the ramp-up to production rates where the company benefit from economies of scale.

My colleague Andrea Shalal-Esa, of Reuters, broke the story. Her story contained no details, such as which versions of the plane are on the chopping block. The easiest cut would be to the Air Force’s buy, which is far and away the largest at 1,763 planes. But Air Force Secretary Mike Donley fenced off the JSF from major cuts in his keynote speech this morning.

“With a fighter fleet now averaging 22 years old and with two decades of declining fighter force structure, modernizing our aging and smaller fighter force depends on the fifth generation capabilities of the Joint Strike Fighter. Simply put, there is no alternative to the F-35 program. It must succeed. Similarly, developing the Long Range Strike family of systems, including the new bomber, is essential to maintaining conventional long range strike capabilities into the future,” Donley said.

Those remarks, of course, do not rule out the Office of Secretary of Defense stuffing large JSF cuts down the services’ throats. I asked Donley after his speech this morning about hte likelihood of large cuts to the F-35 program, before news of the century cut broke. “The message today is that, at the strategic level this remains a cirical program for the U.S Air Force,” he said, noting that the service would “tweak” the program year by year.

In conversations with several industry sources here at AFA one thing became clear. Rumors about program cuts are everywhere. With the end result of the Super Committee’s decisions getting to the Pentagon just a few weeks before the budget is supposed to be released, it is unlikely large cuts will be made to the 2013 budget. They would be too difficult to plan and be terribly disruptive. Look for the big cuts to begin rolling in during 2014. Hopefully by then the U.S. economy will have begun to recover.

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