50% Fewer Joint Strike Fighters?

A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft is on display at the production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, Aug. 31, 2009. (DoD photo by Cherie Cullen/Released)

A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft is on display at the production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, Aug. 31, 2009. (DoD photo by Cherie Cullen/Released)

F-35 total may be cut by half, report says

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.

As noted last week, Great Britain is considering cutting its buy to around 50 and turn its second Queen Elizabeth-class carrier into a helicopter carrier.

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.


  1. Remember when the YF-22 was supposed to cost about $80 Million, 650 or so were planned, and exports to NATO customers were envisioned?

    The F-35 is the F-22 all over again, only worse. It’s original cost target was $30 Million each, and they now cost more that 400% more, half the “participants” want to drop out, and of the “3100” aircraft that were planned, only half are going to be built.

  2. Are we done yet with design by committee and a piece of it built in every Congressman’s backyard?

    We would have been better off calling Saab Aerotech, ordering 2,000 of their latest Gripens and installing our electronics. First off, we would actually get the planes. Second, we would spend a quarter as much.

    Or, we could do like the Indians and evaluate actual built planes and order the best.

  3. And the Gripen has plenty of american components already.

    By the way, it’s always fun to see how quick and efficiente american companies are when involved in internation sales/competition.

  4. By the time production is complete, we’ll have just about enough to use on one Aircraft Carrier.

    Which is good, because by then we’ll probably only have ONE Aircraft Carrier (at the same cost as out current 10 Carriers combines, no doubt),

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