The F-35 fighter plane one of the most sophisticated weapons in the U.S. military’s arsenal. It’s also one of the most expensive. In its recent budget proposal for the 2023 fiscal year, the Biden administration reduced the number of planes it planned to buy. Lockheed Martin manufactures the F-35 in Fort Worth.
Anthony Capaccio, a defense reporter for Bloomberg, spoke to Texas Standard about the potential cutback. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Why has the Biden administration proposed buying fewer F-35s in the next fiscal year?
Anthony Capaccio: The running narrative from this week’s budget briefings was that the Pentagon wanted to slightly slow it down because of delays. This program has lived a charmed life up until now. There haven’t been cuts like this since 2017, Lockheed incurred a $440 million overrun last year that the Pentagon had to absorb, basically. So the running narrative with the Pentagon – with the Air Force and DOD – is that because of this delay, they need to slow down the program.
How expensive is an F-35? And I wonder if there’s a little buyer’s remorse at that price tag or no?
The whole program is roughly $398 billion for acquisition and development costs. It’s another $1.2 trillion over the next 60 years to sustain the program. I don’t think there’s buyer’s remorse on the airframe itself. The big issue here is long term sustainment.
There’s two sides to the F-35. There’s the public high profile – six planes flying in Eastern Europe right now flying deterrence missions. There’s Germany committing to buy 35 of them, just last week. That’s the part that the public sees and that Lockheed pushes.
But then there’s the other side that the public isn’t seeing. It’s the fact that the plane’s not meeting a lot of its maintenance goals, it’s failing to meet what they call mean time between repair – the time it takes for a mechanic to make critical repairs on the program. It’s failing a number of these maintenance metrics. On the other side, it’s getting better with reliability. I give it credit for that. But the two sides, the high profile side is the one that’s winning out lately.
The biggest issue here is, I think it’s losing its charm on Capitol Hill. This year in the 2022 budget, the Pentagon requested 85 planes. Congress, for the first time in like five or six years, didn’t add any planes to that. 85 were appropriated. 85 were requested. If I’m Lockheed. I might want to be worrying about that. It doesn’t have to make congressional supporters on the hill as it once did. And I think the issue of the long term sustainment costs may be eating away at it as the craws of some members.
Do you think people in Fort Worth should be worried that this program could be canceled at some point?
It’s too big to fail. It’s not going to be canceled. They should worry about cutbacks. The Air Force quantity of 1,763. That’s the major metric. The Air Force is the biggest customer.