Rising costs, changing threats and rival aircraft — manned and unmanned — could cut nearly in half the number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters that ultimately are built, a Dutch defense analyst said in a report to the Dutch parliament. And if fewer planes are built, the price for each, already $100 million or more, will undoubtedly increase, analyst Johan Boeder warned.
A “likely estimate” is that 2,500 F-35s eventually will be built, Boeder wrote in a report delivered to Dutch lawmakers in September.
Lockheed Martin disputes that conclusion, but Barry Watts of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments thinks it might be accurate.
Current plans call for the U.S. military to buy 2,443 F-35s, “but if history is any guide, I would not hold my breath waiting” for that many purchases to be completed. “I think the number is going to be about half of that,” said Watts, who is a retired Air Force combat pilot and former chief of the Pentagon’s Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation.
Watts said he expects the Air Force to buy 800 to 1,000 F-35s instead of the 1,763 in current service plans. The Air Force can get by with fewer F-35s because it has decided to keep its A-10s and F-15Es in service.
One thing to keep in mind is that the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have meant a lot more flying for our planes than in a normal peacetime environment. The option to just keep flying the older fighters isn’t going to be there in ten years like it is today.
[Lockheed spokesman Chris Geisel] said that the U.S. still intends to buy 2,443 F-35s, Britain plans to buy 138 and the seven other nations participating in the F-35 program plan to buy about 700. “There are no indications from any of the partner countries that they are going to trim back,” he said.
Now that F-22 production is being ended, in part because the F-35 can more cheaply do a lot of what’s needed in today’s world, are we going to see F-35 procurement further hamstring our air superiority?
UPDATE: (05 Nov 2009) A British official stated that they have no plans to reduce the number of F-35s they’ll buy or to downgrade the carrier to helicopters only.