US Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne says closed-door talks on budget cuts could reduce the total procurement of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) by hundreds, but all three variants of the next-generation aircraft are likely to be retained.

Wynne’s remarks came in the final days of internal Pentagon discussions over the Quadrennial Defense Review, a sweeping planning document that is expected to rebalance defence spending priorities.

Although they do not represent a final decision on the JSF programme, Wynne’s comments appear to rebut months of speculation that Pentagon insiders would favour a proposal to eliminate the USAF’s conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35A and force the service to shift to a mixed purchase of the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B and the F-35C carrier variant (CV). Wynne took up his new post last month after two years as undersecretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics.

With doubts growing over the Department of Defense’s original plan of buying about 2,600 aircraft, the JSF’s eight-nation international partnership team met in Baltimore, Maryland last week for the third and final round of negotiations on the pending memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the JSF programme’s production, sustainment and follow-on development phase.

The JSF team plans to produce a pre-draft document for each member nation to review in the new year, and hopes to have a single MoU signed by all eight partners in December 2006.

Lockheed and JSF Joint Program Office planners are finalising plans for initial deliveries to partners and the first foreign military sales customers.

Source: Flight International