The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has become a lightning rod for quick-hit budget savings in the Pentagon’s latest military spending plan, despite what the programme office would have you believe.

Less than a week after celebrating a first transatlantic crossing by an Italian-assembled F-35A, refuelled by an Italian air force KC-767, bad news quickly befell the fifth-generation fighter. Its largest customer, the US Air Force, is to defer 45 orders across its five-year budget proposal, and won’t hit 60 aircraft per year until 2021.

With a procurement cost of $391 billion for 2,457 US F-35s, it’s no wonder that when the books are squeezed, number crunchers in the Pentagon turn to this largest account for savings.

As recently retired air force vice chief of staff Gen Larry Spencer asks, how long can the service back off buying the F-35 before those new weapons designed specifically to counter it are introduced? And is it at risk of becoming another Lockheed F-22 or Northrop Grumman B-2 – costly programmes so troublesome that the fiscal Grim Reaper struck before they could be fielded in operationally significant numbers?

F-35 czar Lt Gen Christopher Bogdan says no, and claims the changes will hardly be felt. Time will tell, but with aviation cuts and deferrals proposed that will impact every congressional district, US lawmakers might not be as kind to the F-35 in fiscal year 2017.

Source: Flight International