Lockheed Martin Photo by Angel DelCueto
F-35 assembly, Fort Worth, Tex.

Congress Considers F-35 Budget Revamp

May 15, 2024
Lawmakers frustrated with progress of the fighter jet program’s technology refresh are studying whether to reallocate $1 billion for new aircraft in order to fund availability, performance, and maintenance issues.

The U.S. House Armed Services Committee is proposing significant revisions to the Dept. of Defense’s proposed budget for 2025 – in particular to its spending plans for the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  Under terms approved by the Committee for consideration by the House, $1 billion would be cut from the budget for new aircraft and those savings would be allocated to projects intended to fix ongoing availability, performance, and maintenance issues with the aircraft.

The F-35 is a series of fighter jets deployed for ground attack and combat, and available in three variants, for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Navy, as well as the defense forces of 17 other nations. It is by far the largest and most expensive U.S. defense program, with Lockheed subject to steady scrutiny for cost overruns and the readiness of aircraft for service.

More than 1,000 F-35s have been produced since the launch of the program in 2006. Currently, Lockheed is implementing a “refresh” effort to update the jets’ computer hardware and software capabilities in advance of an extensive (Block 4) upgrade to the aircraft propulsion systems and weaponry, which is planned to be underway for future production series of the F-35.

However, delays in the progress of Technology Refresh-3 have kept DoD from accepting deliveries of new F-35 aircraft for several months – reasoning that they are obsolete upon delivery – and neither the Pentagon nor Lockheed has been able to state when deliveries may resume.

The Pentagon’s budget for 2025 anticipates delivery of 68 new F-35s, but the cuts proposed by the House Armed Services Committee would reduce that total to 58 jets. The money would be redirected to fix outstanding problems with the aircraft’s control technology, reportedly including a digital twin of the system; a flying testbed that includes new avionics; a software integration lab; and other fixes to the aircraft’s radar capabilities, according to Congressional sources.

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