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NGAD and F-15EX: Why the F-35 Stealth Fighter Is Being Cut?

F-35 Stealth Fighter
F-35 Stealth Fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

White House Budget Proposal Pinches F-35s for NGAD? – The White House released its new defense budget proposal for FY23 on March 28. The Pentagon would get a total of $773 billion if Congress approves. This is an increase of $31 billion or a four-percent raise from the prior fiscal year. This budget hike doesn’t reward every service branch. The Air Force, under the proposal, would have to cut down on some of its airplanes, retiring 150 aircraft, including purchasing fewer F-35s. However, there is more spending earmarked for the Next-generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.

NGAD Gets a Funding Boost

The Air Force budget proposal is a total of nearly $170 billion with a substantial portion (a nine billion dollars increase) dedicated to research and development, testing, and evaluation. This is where increased spending on the NGAD comes in.

What Is the NGAD?

The NGAD fighter plane is the 6th generation successor to the F-22. There could be two NGAD models planned – one for a long-range strike in the Indo-Pacific with a higher payload and one for tactical air superiority with a lower payload for Europe. Both platforms could carry more weapons than the F-22 and could potentially be stealthier with optionally-manned flight and perhaps even laser weapons.

What About the F-35?

This all sounds fine unless you are Lockheed Martin because there will be fewer new F-35s ordered, the latest Department of Defense budget guidance said. Sixty-one F-35s instead of 94 will be purchased by the Air Force, according to the Pentagon’s funding blueprint – the Selected Acquisition Report released on March 16. That’s 35 percent fewer than expected. That number was cut further under the White House proposal released March 28. The Air Force said it would buy only 33 F-35As for $4.5 billion. The service branch plans to purchase 24 Boeing F-15EX fighters for $1.4 billion.

Why Reduce the Numbers Now?

This is a curious cut to the F-35, a stealth fighter that is currently flying sorties over eastern Europe to answer the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Germans just ordered 35 of the airplanes. Finland approved funding for 64 F-35s as well – a $9.4 billion purchase. Canada is going to spend $15 billion for 88 F-35s.

Congress Is Concerned

These new international sales should bolster the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas, where much of the airplane’s assembly is conducted. But local members of Congress in Texas, such as Rep. Kay Granger and Rep. Marc Vesey, are wondering what the U.S. commitment is to the F-35 program.

Air Force Secretary Gives Re-assurance

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall believes that lawmakers should not worry about the F-35 cuts. He said there will be more units of the Joint Strike Fighter ordered in the coming years.


F-15EX. Image Credit: Boeing.

F-15EX Visit

An F-15EX fighter jet taxis to its parking spot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Nov. 8, 2021. The jet visited Wright-Patt to give the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s F-15EX program office the opportunity to see the aircraft up close. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jaima Fogg)

“I’ve had people ask me … if we’re committed to the F-35. Of course, we’re committed to the F-35,” Kendall said. “We’re 15 years into production, and we’ll be building F-35s probably another 15 years. … It’s going the be the cornerstone of the [tactical air] fleet for the foreseeable future. There’s no question about that,” Kendall told Breaking Defense.

Extensive Bipartisan Support for the F-35

With these words Kendall may be attempting to re-assure scores of lawmakers who support the F-35 program. Last year, two groups of 124 House members and 20 senators wrote letters to remind the public and the Pentagon that they want more F-35 production and no cuts.


NGAD Artist Rendering (Note: Not a US Government Image).

It’s likely that Kendall will eventually have to visit Capitol Hill and testify to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees about the F-35, the NGAD, and F-15EX, among other issues. The F-35 has many friends in Congress and these policymakers may wish to stop the cuts or at least compromise and meet the Air Force in the middle concerning new F-35 procurement.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, Ph.D., is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.



  1. Christopher M. Peninger

    March 30, 2022 at 10:11 pm

    It’s a bad buy if your theater of operations is in the Pacific. It doesn’t have the range required nor the capability to fly long distances at high speeds. At $44K per hour to fly for long hours plus the costs of a Tanker flying alongside the whole way across the ocean, it’s a total waste of money. Range, Speed, and Payload is key. The F-35 has none of these. It’s a flying stealth WAP and nothing more. Purchase more F-15EX’s until the NGAD is a reality, that’s the only short term solution.

  2. Oclaf

    March 30, 2022 at 11:59 pm


  3. Woodchuck

    March 31, 2022 at 8:16 am

    Except that’s not true. For starters, their costs are being based on different math models. In all reality, stealthier planes will ultimately have more survivability in a near peer conflict. And be cheaper to that end. A F-15 is totally worthless if it’s seen and shot down 200 miles away.

    And my favorite. The F-35 range is near equal to there F-15EX. And significantly greater than that of the F/A-18EX.

    Stop spreading falsehoods. Be it intentionally or not.

  4. Jacksonian Libertarian

    March 31, 2022 at 4:59 pm

    As can be seen from the utter failure of the Russian Air Force to gain Air Superiority in Ukraine. Which is armed with Soviet era (30 yr old) Air Defense missiles. Air Superiority isn’t possible without Stealth Aircraft.

    While many nations claim to make stealth aircraft, the tiny numbers built indicate serious problems. The US is the only nation to field large numbers, 180 F-22, 20 B-2, 300+ F-35, and the only nation selling large numbers to its allies 300+.

    You fight a war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had.

    Fighting a war without Air Superiority would be bad, just ask the Russians being routed.

    The F-35 is the only Air Superiority game in town. Maximum F-35 production should peak at 150/yr. Where those planes go depends on how many the US takes, as the rest will go to the hundreds ordered by allies. Waiting for block 4 upgrades coming next year, is a way to get more into the hands of allies sooner. This makes the army they have, a deterrence to Authoritarian belligerence.

  5. Chris Cha

    March 31, 2022 at 7:25 pm

    Here’s my explanation (sure as hell I hope I’m right, and our military leaders aren’t idiots):

    Canadian and European orders for F-35 fighters have jumped as a result of the Ukraine war. Lockheed-Martin can’t expand manufacturing capacity quickly enough to meet that demand and satisfy US demand. Some of the F-35s the US purchased would likely be deployed to Europe anyway. Our F-35 objectives are partially satisfied with European funding, and we can divert spending to 6th gen and 4.5 gen fighters – both of which we need in our future air force.

    We sure as hell better not short the production of F-35s the way we did F-22s. Warts and all, the military has built its air strategy for the next 20 to 30 years around the F-35.

  6. richard007

    March 31, 2022 at 8:37 pm

    F-15 even as 4th generation fighter kill to lose ratio 115 to 0. Long Range with fast packs. larger weapons loads, Twin engine survivalbilty over long distance oceans , proven in real combat . I could go on and on. Wing loading etc…

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