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Could the Democrats Go to War Against the F-35 Stealth Fighter?

Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Heritage Flight Team pilot and commander, performs a vertical climb in a Lockheed Martin F-35A "Lightning II" during the Bell Fort Worth Alliance Air Show Oct. 14, 2018, in Fort Worth, Texas. The Lockheed Martin F-35A "Lightning II’s" F-135 single-engine contains 43,000 pounds of thrust.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has no shortage of detractors. The reason has long been the cost of the aircraft, despite the fact that the aircraft will remain in service for decades to come and over the long haul will actually be more cost-effective than trying to maintain or even modernize older platforms like the F-15EX.

However, two lawmakers aren’t convinced and announced they wouldn’t support boosting the number of aircraft in the upcoming fiscal year 2022 (FY22) budget unless the program makes headway in addressing some issues.

“If this program continues to fail to significantly control and reduce actual and projected sustainment costs, we may need to invest in other, more affordable programs and backfill an operational shortfall of potentially over 800 tactical fighters,” said Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC’s) tactical air and land subcommittee.

“Given the overall affordability concerns that exist within the program, I would not support any requests for additional aircraft beyond what is contained in this year’s president’s budget request,” added Rep. Norcross.

The New Jersey Democrat isn’t alone in his hardline stance against the fifth-generation stealth fighter.

“The program is over budget, said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who oversees the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee.”It fails to deliver on promised capabilities. And its mission capability rates do not even begin to meet the service thresholds. Industry’s solution to many of these problems is simply to ask the taxpayers to throw money at the problem. That will not happen. The easy days of the past are over.”

Garamendi was blunt in his stance, adding “Don’t expect more money. Do not expect to have more planes purchased than in the president’s budget. That’s not going to happen.”

The F-35 has become a hot-button issue among lawmakers, and the difference of opinion on the platform falls on party lines.

Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) think-tank in Washington, D.C., told Janes earlier this month that she would not be surprised to see other Democrats take their lead from HASC’s chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.).

During the joint hearing of HASC’s readiness and tactical air subcommittees, a number of issues were put in the spotlight including an ongoing shortage of the jet’s Pratt & Whitney F135 engines, but also the maintenance cost – which according to some service officials could be untenable.

The state-of-the-art F-35 has more support among Republican lawmakers, but even some have expressed frustration over the costs.

“If our industry stakeholders don’t succeed in quickly driving down the sustainment cost of the F-35, I fear critics of the program will be dealt a stronger hand in their calls to gut the program,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), the top Republican on the readiness subcommittee.

Additionally, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri), the ranking Republican on HASC’s tactical airpower subcommittee, said that the F-35 program has seen some progress, but she still shared her colleagues’ concerns about capability delays, affordability issues, and readiness problems.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.