Hale said the decision reflected a postponement of some F-35
purchases because of budget pressures, not concerns about the
performance of the $392 billion program, the Pentagon's biggest arms
"It's an affordability issue, not performance," Hale told a
conference hosted by McAleese and Associates, a consulting firm, and
Hale said the program, which is nearly 70 percent over budget and
years behind schedule, was showing improvement. "It's starting to
get on an even footing," he said.
Hale declined to give details about planned purchases in coming
years, but said production of the Lockheed fighter jets would be
increasing. Defense officials say the military services still plan
to buy a total of 2,443 F-35 fighter jets, despite the latest
postponement of orders.
Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer, told the
conference that budget pressures prevented funding for all the
aircraft planned in fiscal 2015, which begins October 1.
"We can't ... ramp up as much as we'd like to in FY15, but we're
going to start on that path," Kendall said.
Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan told the conference that
orders from foreign countries would help increase the production
rate of the new aircraft, and would soon account for half of all
F-35 orders in a given year.
He said he expected South Korea to order F-35 jets, and said he
recently visited Singapore, which was also interested in the new
radar-evading plane. "Adding those airplanes ... takes care of any
reductions that the services might have," he said.
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations Vice Admiral Joseph Mulloy told
conference participants the Navy remained committed to the F-35
programs, although it planned to slow its buy rate and ramp up
Despite the slower purchase rate, he said the Navy still expected to
start using the new planes for military operations in 2019, as
planned. "We're planning on 2019 for our first squadron," he said.
[to top of second column]
Turkey is expected to become the ninth country to place a firm order
for F-35 jets in coming days, joining the U.S., Britain, Australia,
Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, Israel and Japan.
Sources familiar with the budget plans said the department could add
funding for several F-35 jets to the supplemental war funding
request to pay for some older Marine Corps Harrier jets destroyed in
Kendall declined to give any details since defense officials are
still working on the war spending request. But he suggested that
F-35s could be potentially be used to replace destroyed Harriers.
"We're looking at ... what's appropriate. We want to take advantage
of that as much as we can," he said. "The Marines had some Harriers
destroyed. They need a replacement aircraft. What's the logical
replacement? It's not more Harriers."
Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox told the conference
that war funding budgets were not intended to pay for new equipment,
although she conceded that the Pentagon had been "on both sides of
that argument" in recent years. She said there was an argument to be
made that if equipment was destroyed, it could be replaced by new
"It's a grey area. We have this debate internally all the time,"
Hale said, when asked about the possibility of funding F-35s in the
war budget. He said there was a precedent, since some major weapons
systems had been funded through supplemental budgets in the past.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and
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