We predicted this, not that many months ago. The way the FY21 budget request is presented, it looks like the president is proposing a cut to F-35 funding – from $12.6 billion in FY20 to $11.4 billion in FY21. (These numbers reflect both Procurement and Research & Development dollars.) That equates to an actual 98 airframes in FY20 and a proposed 79 airframes in FY21.
Putting it like that causes a high-alert status for every Member of Congress with a tactical aviation base or F-35 contractor or subcontractor in their district (which is just about every district). And the well-heeled lobbyists for the same will race to the Hill with charts and graphs predicting a precipitous drop in productivity at every affected manufacturing plant.
But let’s step back and look at last year’s President Budget Request and how many the Trump Administration asked for in FY20 (merely 12 months ago, after all). The request was for 78 airframes, spread across all three services that fly them, at a total cost of just under $9 billion. But Congress added 20 additional airframes, bringing the total up to just over $11 billion (in procurement) and $12.6 billion when you add in substantial R&D costs.
So a request of 79 airframes this year is in line with a stable aircraft purchase plan that the contractors can count on. But, we’ll be tuning up our tiny violins, or making that weird, sad trombone sound, when Members of Congress insist this is a cut and shovel more money into the program.
Watch this space.