The cuts, proposed in a document signed by Gates on December 23 and leaked to Bloomberg, would see as many as 122 F-35s cancelled from the planned 500+ aircraft Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) batches, and an estimated US$2.8bn (A$3.04bn) redirected from LRIP production to program development. Further savings would be used to buy additional Boeing F/A-18E/F fighters to plug a looming capability gap for the US Navy caused by F-35 program delays.
No indication has been given as to whether the overall US requirement for 2456 JSFs would be affected, and the 122 LRIP aircraft may or may not be added to multi-year production batches at a later date. It is also unknown whether or how the cuts will affect partner nations’ JSF programs, including Australia which announced in November it will order 14 F-35As from 2014.
The proposal is a blow to Gates who had previously hoped to accelerate the development and production phases of the JSF program, but appears to be in line with a report by a Pentagon Joint Estimating Team (JET) late last year and with recommendations by the Pentagon’s chief acquisitions officer, Ashton Carter.
Whether the cuts go ahead will be known in April when the first draft of the FY2011 defence budget is handed down.