By that standard, the Biden Pentagon’s decision to cut purchases of the F-35 fighter by 35% from its previously stated plan in 2023 is probably the most ill-conceived provision in the president’s entire proposed defense budget.
The administration could hardly have gotten the timing more wrong, electing as it did to permit all three of the receiving services—the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps—to use the military’s most important air power modernization effort as a bill-payer for other items.
The sea services at least admit that cutting their buys is a one-year budget-balancing exercise that will see orders bounce back in subsequent years.
The Air Force’s proposed cut is more problematic because it says it wants to “buy out” the production line of the legacy F-15EX fighter before ramping up F-35 orders from the meager level of 33 aircraft proposed for next year.
It isn’t clear when that will be, but at 33 per year, it would take 53 years for the service to secure all 1,763 F-35s that it still insists it needs.
Congress will undoubtedly have something to say about this as it reviews the president’s proposed budget, and the logical place to begin is by asking, why now?
Here are five compelling reasons why now is not the right time to be slashing outlays for the military’s biggest investment program.
Trimming the Pentagon’s top airpower program in the midst of a war is foolish. NATO is currently facing the most first major case of cross-border aggression in Europe since 1945. Russian troops have not performed well, but without the benefit of tactical aircraft, the invasion of Ukraine would likely have collapsed entirely. That is one reason many observers favor the idea of a non-fly zone.
Against that backdrop, a decision to slash production of the only next-generation combat aircraft the U.S. has in production is extraordinarily ill-timed. The Air Force has barely begun the process
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