The Pentagon would buy nearly one-third fewer F-35 joint strike fighter aircraft between 2012 and 2016 under a five-year spending program outlined Thursday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Total buys of all three variants would fall from 449 planes, as projected as recently as a year ago, to 325 planes over the five year period. The detailed plan document is attached below.
A total of 30 planes were recently ordered with dunding authorized in the fiscal 2010 defense budget. The 2011 budget called for 43 aircraft, but Congress has not appropriated funds and indications are that the number will be between 32 and 37.
For 2012 the production order would be cut from 45 planes to 32. Production of F-35B STOVL aircraft would be scaled back dramatically until that plane's technical problems can be fixed and tested.
An additional $4.6 billion would be added to the development and testing budget to complete testing by 2016.
As expected, Gates has given the Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin two additional years to solve technical and development problems with the F-35B, short-takeoff-vertical-landing version.
Gates said a Pentagon review shows the B-model has problems that "may lead to a redesign of the structure and the propulsion system," which it can ill afford.
"If we cannot fix this variant in this two year time frame ... then I believe it ought to be cancelled," Gates said in a Pentagon press briefing.
Details of Gates plan are still not available, but he said 2012 orders would be reduced from a planned 43 planes to 32 and overall spending on the program would be cut by $4 billion between 2012 and 2016.