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Facing the Music: High Costs Could Cut US Air Force F-35 Fleet By One Third

Like a hibernating bear awakening from a long wintry slumber, an internal United States military analysis has finally concluded that F-35 costs are so unbearably high that unless major cost savings are achieved, the US Air Force won’t be able to afford as many aircraft as it wants.

The report, obtained by Bloomberg, found that unless the US Air Force can find ways to trim F-35 operation and support costs by 38 percent over the next ten years, the military will only be about to buy around two-thirds of the 1,736 F-35s it has planned to acquire.

Three F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, (rear to front) AF-2, AF-3 and AF-4, flies over Edwards Air Force Base in this December 10, 2011 handout photo provided by Lockheed Martin - Sputnik International
More Problems, More Money: F-35 Costs Soar Faster Than the Planes Do

In total, the service would have to reduce F-35 acquisitions by 590 planes, or about 33 percent, Bloomberg noted.

On March 1, Vice Admiral Mat Winter, director of the F-35 Program Office, told reporters that Lockheed Martin was not being transparent about what the planes would cost when negotiating new acquisition contracts. "We don't know to the level of granularity I want to know — what it actually costs to produce this aircraft," Winter said.

While Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson and US President Donald Trump have promised to reduce the per-aircraft cost over time, Winter also noted "the price is coming down but it's not coming down fast enough."

Two separate US government watchdogs are outlining problems with the engines used in their F-35 jet fighters - one finding the systems unreliable and another citing dozens of violations in its quality assurance inspection. - Sputnik International
‘Not Coming Down Fast Enough’: Pentagon Unsatisfied With Lockheed’s F-35 Prices

Nevertheless, US Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanik said the results of the analysis don't imply that a final decision has been made to reduce F-35 procurement quantities.

The possible reduction was "a staff assessment of aircraft affordability. It's premature for the Air Force to consider buying fewer aircraft at this time."

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