We can hear it now, plain as day. The Members of Congress who represent Lockheed Martin and other contractors deeply involved in F-35 procurement will soon be marching to the ramparts and calling the Pentagon’s FY20 budget a “cut” to F-35 production. And then they’ll use their positions atop several important Congressional committees to “reverse” this “terrible trend.”
Imagine us at TCS, tuning up our violins.
Because this is hogwash. F-35 procurement rates are continuing apace with the long-term trends set by each of the three military services buying them: the Air Force (buying the most basic, the F-35A), the Marine Corps (buying the F-35B which is a short take-off and landing variant) and the Navy (buying the F-35C designed to be catapulted off an aircraft carrier and land by hooking an arresting wire.) These are three very different variants and each has its own price tag and took different development paths.
The Marine version of the aircraft was the first deemed operationally ready and has been procured for several years. The Marine plan calls for slowing down the procurement of the planes as their inventory needs are met. The FY19 request was for 20 F-35Bs and this year’s request is for just 10. But look closely at our chart and behold the Congressional hand that is moving the needle in favor of Lockheed Martin. The final version of the FY19 Pentagon appropriations bill included 22 F-35Bs. Those extra two airframes (and about $215 million extra dollars) came courtesy of the Appropriations Committees in the Congress.
But that’s relatively small potatoes. The Air Force request for 48 aircraft in FY19 was bumped up to 56 planes. And the Navy request for 9 was increased to 15. Altogether, an additional $1 billion was devoted to the F-35 in FY19. So when they Air Force says they only want 48 airframes in FY20, and the Navy asks for just 10, don’t let the Members from Lockheed Martin kid you…these are not cuts. This is budget planning as done by the experts within the military services. And the wishes of a single defense contractor shouldn’t be allowed to turn that plan on its head.