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We Think We Know Why the US Air Force Cut Its F-35 Fighter Order

F-35
F-35 stealth fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Did the Pentagon Make A Mistake Cutting the F-35 Order? – This month, three Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jets arrived at Israel’s Nevatim Air Base, bringing the Israeli Air Force’s total force to 33. An additional 17 of the high-capable fifth-generation stealth aircraft are still set to be delivered, bringing the total number of aircraft in service in the Middle Eastern nation to 50.

At the same time, Germany announced earlier this month that it would seek to acquire upwards of 35 of the fifth-generation aircraft for service in the Luftwaffe.

Switzerland and Finland also recently announced plans to adopt the jet, and Canada also confirmed on Monday that it would adopt the F-35.

Supporters of the Joint Strike Fighter program have continued to praise the capabilities of the fifth-generation stealth aircraft, which is in service with more than a dozen key allies and partners around the world.

Yet, back in the United States, it seems that the U.S. Department of Defense – spurred on by lawmakers who are concerned with the costs – announced last week that it would buy fewer of F-35 Lightning IIs in 2023. The U.S. Air Force has chopped its order of the aircraft by a third for next year, while the United States Marine Corps will buy approximately 25 percent fewer aircraft. The U.S. could even slash its order of the F-35C – the carrier-based variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. In total, 33 aircraft have been cut from the expected procurement of 94 aircraft for next year.

To date, the U.S. military has ordered approximately 2,400 F-35 Lightning IIs, while another 900 had been ordered from 15 foreign clients. Lockheed Martin has delivered around 750 of those as of the end of last year.

Bad Decision?

The rash move by the Pentagon to scale back on the F-35 comes following the January release of the Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report, which suggested the Joint Strike Fighter program was in a “state of suspended development” and that “little progress” had been made last year.

Other factors that led to the scaling back of the Pentagon’s acquisition of the F-35 included the high operating and maintenance cost. Even as the F-35 order was scaled back, it was also reported that the U.S. Air Force would instead request 24 F-15EX jets built by Boeing, up from the 14 planned in the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget.

The Boeing F-15EX is an updated version of the F-15E Strike Eagle that was first introduced in the 1980s, and will replace the service’s aging aircraft. However, critics have noted that it lacks the stealth capabilities and is really just an updated fourth-generation aircraft.

A common complaint has been that the F-35 is too expensive, yet, Russia and China are moving forward with their respective stealth fighter programs. Supporters of the Joint Strike Fighter now believe that the DoD is making a critical mistake by going essentially backwards while near peer adversaries are forging ahead with more capable aircraft. It could be a very costly mistake.

End of the F-22?

It isn’t just the F-35 program that is in the crosshairs. It was also reported that the Air Force has called for a plan to divest 33 of the service’s oldest Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors. If Congress approves the idea, it would send all but three Block 20 Raptors to the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB) in Tucson, Arizona, and shrink the overall fleet from 186 to 153 fighters, Air Force Times reported on Monday.

However, that plan at least calls for the money saved to be redirected towards research for cutting-edge combat jet designs under the “ Next-Generation Air Dominance“, or NGAD, program.

The Air Force is clearly in a “cutting” mode, as the service’s budget for fiscal 2023 calls for cutting 150 aircraft, including older A-10 Warthogs, T-1 Jayhawks, and KC-135 Stratotankers, as well as the oldest F-22s.

More funding would go towards the B-21 Raider bomber, hypersonic weapons development, and the Next-Generation Air Dominance program.

Doing More With Less

Even as the Air Force will scale back its order on the F-35A, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters last week that the fifth-generation fighter will still remain a central part of the service’s fighter fleet for years to come, and that the Air Force’s goal of buying 1,763 of the fighters remains unchanged.

“Of course we’re committed to the F-35,” Kendall explained. “We’re 15 years into production, and we’ll be building F-35s probably another 15 years. It’s going to be a cornerstone of the [tactical air] fleet for the foreseeable future.”

Unfortunately, it seems that some are still trying to kill it.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

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.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Alex

    March 29, 2022 at 2:04 pm

    It’s just not an effective aircraft against highly developed countries in the military sphere.

  2. Woodchuck

    March 29, 2022 at 4:54 pm

    Says who? It’s more effective than anything else out there.

  3. Dude Dudeness

    March 29, 2022 at 5:58 pm

    F-15EX is not “going backwards”, there is a clear need for 4th gen fighters. They carry more weaponry than 5th gen, because it doesn’t have to be stored in an internal bay within the aircraft (required to be “stealth”). For stateside air superiority, we don’t especially need stealth – you’re not trying to dodge enemy anti-aircraft systems; for overseas, you combine 4th and 5th – stealth to go take out the air defenses, then supplement with 4th to put more weapons on target with fewer sorties, on an easier to maintain platform. People who don’t know probably shouldn’t be writing about this stuff, or at a minimum do some research of why the Air Force chose to start buying F-15EX…people a lot smarter than this author made those decisions.

  4. Brett W Scholten

    March 29, 2022 at 6:32 pm

    F-15EX will carry hypersonic missiles, F-35 can’t.
    Budget went up 4% against an 8% inflation rate, so you get fewer airframes.

  5. Alex

    March 29, 2022 at 6:54 pm

    Any aircraft over Russian territory will be shot down in the same way as any aircraft over the United States. Only a fool does not understand this.

  6. Ron Spencer

    March 29, 2022 at 6:56 pm

    Cutting back makes it easier for other countries to get there’s earlier I remember when us here in Australia wanted C17s the US military gave us there slots and I wish our government would buy the Virginia class submarines from the US so we will have them before the turn of the century if we build them here

  7. Whatever

    March 29, 2022 at 7:54 pm

    Get rid of it yesterday. Why send a pilot to do a drone swarm’s job for $$$$ more cheeply?

  8. Kevin

    March 29, 2022 at 9:34 pm

    The USAF also really wants to reduce the number of F-35s it purchases with block 3 software. Block 4 is coming and offers some significant gains. Those fighters will cost less in the sense you have to upgrade them less.
    For those of you paying attention,the F-35 has won a number of deals lately (Canada, Finland, Swiss, Germany) and others are likely to increase their order. LM just needs to get the logistics software worked out and block 4, and definitely needs to get operating costs reduced, and the F-35 will be fine. It will be the backbones of western air forces for the next 30 years like the F-16 was before it.

  9. Keoni48

    March 30, 2022 at 1:11 am

    I’m a Vietnam era Blue Suites. I’m tired of reading where the USAF still operates under the theory they have to have the latest High Tech Gizmo. The real reason they didn’t buy as many F-22’s as originally planned, is because the higher tech F-35 was in the pipeline. It’ll take a month of Sunday’s to get everything fixed on the F-35’s. And I love all these “experts” who say the next block will have these problems worked out. In the meantime, we have all these existing planes that still need to be fixed just to bring them up to their out of date specs that they were supposed to be built with. Plus the planes we’ve sold to our allies that are fouled up.n

  10. F35Fan

    March 30, 2022 at 1:30 am

    I agree with Dudeness – it is cheaper for DoD to wait until the block 4 upgrades are built in at the factory than to retrofit them afterwards. If the author of this article had done any research at all he should know this is the reason they have temporarily slowed production for FY23.

  11. Captain Rod Hardman

    March 30, 2022 at 6:48 am

    Agree with “Dude Dudeness” – when F-35 has all its underwing hardpoints loaded up – like in the pic. for this article – most of its “stealth” is gone. Not having any underwing pylons added means only weapons that can be carried will be in internal weapons bay ( = far fewer = less “useful” in its role ). Also means no external fuel tanks underwing = less range, which already isn’t all that flash. Use a big aerial refueling tanker aircraft instead I hear you say. They aren’t too “stealthy” and are a bit of a give away for a potential mission

  12. Earl Wyss

    March 30, 2022 at 11:01 am

    The aircraft in the photo is a USMC F-35B. It doesn’t even have a weapons bay for those external stores, because where the F-35A & C have weapons bays, it has a lifting fan. I question why the USMC’s thinking about acquiring the F-35B because it’s only true advantage over the AV-8B (Stealthiness) is lost once it is armed for a mission. Why does the USMC even need an “F” for Fighter, instead of “A” attack aircraft anyway?

  13. Edward Sims

    March 30, 2022 at 11:30 am

    The Air Force has shown repeatedly that it’s run by ignoramuses.The B70 Valkyrie is of Major point in CCcin CC ern.

  14. Chris

    March 30, 2022 at 7:49 pm

    I suspect the Pentagon is probably cutting back their own orders off the back of recent (positive) international sales performance. The way I see it, this JSF project has been appreciatively ambitious but also outrageously expensive (perhaps shockingly so) and the only way to justify the costs and continued operation are through strong foreign sales 👀. Let me be clear; the pentagon/MIC knows/knew they couldn’t justify this program [after the costs of the F-22 program] so the plan this time around was to essentially subsidize the very high JSF production costs to the US government by getting foreign allies to chip in (which is a win/win because Washington could later put pressure on allies to sortie their jets in future US coalition engagements) however despite that the costs still remain unbearably high and so long as there are enough foreign orders to USAF and USMC probably feel they can hold back their orders for the moment until Boeing’s lobbyists arrive for more orders 💸✈️
    There’s no real pressure to crank out the jets for the Pentagon because the Russians and Chinese are in similar problems with exorbitant 5th gen production costs and haven’t fielded many jets – the USAF have more recently been burned by the F-22 money pit (jets which also effectively never saw combat) so they’re perhaps seeing things more carefully of late

  15. Dave

    July 17, 2022 at 10:09 am

    The author writes “while russia forges ahead is laughable!
    Russia has around 18 stealth fighters now!
    United States has around 800 stealth fighters(including f22) now!
    Russia aspires to have 70 something in 5 years
    United States even at reduced rates will have over 1100 stealth fighters(including f22)
    That is when f4 updated with fully modified f35s are expected to be rolling off the assembly line and that is not including all b2 stealth bombers and new b21 bombers
    And don’t forget just a year or 2 after that 6 gen planes will be rolling off the assembly lines,not to mention the few hundred stealth fighters our western allies will have in europe in 5 years.
    It is down right laughable when someone can not clearly see the level of domination that the United States has over Russia in regards stealth!

  16. Zachary

    July 24, 2022 at 3:30 pm

    F-15EX 110Mil
    F-35A 73Mil

    F-35 is the most capable fighter flying and getting better all the time. Something stinks to high heaven in the Brandon administration.

  17. Kareem Pozzo

    October 13, 2022 at 8:44 pm

    Everything is very open with a very clear clarification of the challenges. It was really informative. Your site is useful. Thanks for sharing!

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