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US pursuing smaller, hybrid block buy for F-35

Budget austerity and a resistant Congress is reining in a F-35 block buy for the US government that would include lot 12 of low-rate initial production, but the government is examining the potential of a hybrid block buy, the Joint Strike Fighter’s program executive officer said on 22 June.

The US does not have adequate funding in Fiscal 2017 to enter into a block buy that would include lot 12, which would begin in 2018, Bogdan says. The US revealed its planned procurement quantities for lots 12, 13 and 14 in a 16 June 16 announcement posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website, although the notice did not refer to the lots under a block buy.

Lot 12 would include 100 F-35As, 26 F-35Bs and six F-35Cs, according to the notice. Lot 13 would include 104 F-35As, 26 F-35Bs and 12 F-35Cs, while lot 14 would call for 88 F-35As, 30 F-35Bs and 18 F-35Cs, the notice shows.

Given current budget pressures, the US government’s best course of action is to wait until lot 13 to enter a block buy, Bogdan says. However, that does not mean other partners and foreign military sales customers who have committed to buying aircraft and have sufficient funding, would not want to start a block buy as soon as possible, he adds.

“Because any savings is a good thing,” he said. “So we’re looking at the potential of a hybrid, where those customers that want to start in lot 12 can do that and then we’ll bring the US services in lot 13 to join. I think that’s probably the most likely path.”

A block buy for lots 12-14 would leverage significant cost savings, but the US has long planned to delay its participation until lot 13. In April, the Defense Department was considering allowing F-35 partners and other foreign customers to enter into the block buy in lot 12, followed by U.S. participation in 13 and 14, according to Bogdan’s written testimony submitted to Congress.

Any earlier US participation could face strong political headwinds from Congress, particularly by Sen John McCain, a vocal critic of the F-35 programme who also chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. Congress would not likely entertain a block-buy or multi-year procurement until initial operational test is completed in Fiscal 2019, which correlates to Lot 13 of F-35 production, McCain wrote in April.

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