Thursday, August 13, 2015

US Navy considers reduced annual F-35C buy - 8/13/2015 - Flight Global

US Navy considers reduced annual F-35C buy - 8/13/2015 - Flight Global

The US Navy believes budget pressures and competing priorities could drive it to purchase fewer Lockheed Martin F-35Cs per year in the 2020s, and a worst-case scenario could see it procure as few as 12 aircraft per year, or one squadron.

Naval Air Forces commander Vice Adm Mike Shoemaker says the current plan is to purchase around 20 carrier variants per year in the 2020s, but depending on the resources available, annual output could fall to anywhere between 12 and 20 aircraft.

“I think the current realities of the budget and other priories inside the navy may drive something between those two numbers, but we’re still on the path to [initial operational capability] for our first squadron in 2018,” Shoemaker said at the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“I’ll keep working as hard as I can with our leadership in the [Pentagon] to ensure we can stay on the path and get out of Classic Hornets and replace them with our F-35C as quick as we can.”

The admiral had two charts with him at the forum, one showing an annual buy of 12 C-models per year through the 2020s and one showing a buy rate of 12. The navy’s latest five-year spending plan shows production peaking at 12 in 2020 as it works toward a total purchase of 369 aircraft to replace its legacy fleet of Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornets.

Talk of decreased production rate comes just one month after incoming chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen Joseph Dunford told lawmakers the Pentagon was reviewing how many F-35s it should purchase given new defence strategic guidance and budget pressures, casting doubt about the current requirement for 2,443 aircraft, which was set about two decades ago.

The navy is by far the least enthusiastic recipient of the F-35, with the Marine Corps and Air Force holding firm on their annual buys despite facing similar budget pressures. The C-model was designed specifically for carrier-based operations and has larger wings and horizontal tails as well as stronger landing gear than the A- and B-models.