Cost-overruns on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are likely to breach a statutory cap that would force the Department of Defense to formally recertificate the programme to Congress, according to US Air Force chief of staff Gen Norton Schwartz.

"It's a possibility and may be even likely" that the F-35 will violate a cost-overrun threshold set under the Nunn-McCurdy law, Schwartz says. The situation should become clear when the Pentagon notifies Congress of all such breaches in the next round of selected acquisition reports on 1 April.

"We have not been notified of a Nunn-McCurdy breach so it would be premature to comment," says Lockheed. However, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently proposed cutting production orders by four F-35s in fiscal year 2011, increasing pressure to maintain unit costs. He also withheld $614 million in incentive payments from Lockheed due to programme delays.

Regardless of the potential recertification threat, the USAF remains strongly committed to the conventional take-off and landing F-35A.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley says the service's overall plan to buy 1,763 F-35s remains fixed, despite reductions called for under the Quadrennial Defense Review. Its future force structure is expected to total around 2,050 manned fighters, also including about 186 Lockheed F-22s.

Source: Flight International