Time to Reset the F-35 Buy?

The Senate Armed Services wants the Pentagon to re-think how many F-35s it needs, according to Fiscal 2016 appropriations language reported out Wednesday. The F-35 total buy requirement was set “under very different strategic circumstances, nearly 20 years ago,” the SASC said. The committee wants a report from the Secretary of Defense within six months of enaction of the appropriations bill on whether the number should be adjusted up or down. The reported also noted the onset of hypersonics, unmanned systems, directed energy, and other new technologies as possibly influencing the strategic landscape before the F-35 buy is complete, as well as the steep drop in strike fighter inventories with the Navy and Air Force. There are “many significant defense modernization programs scheduled to peak simultaneously in the middle of the next decade,” which demands “informed choices” on how to distribute limited resources, states the report. Whether the number goes up or down, the SECDEF has to explain the force-sizing constructs, strategy, and critical assumptions behind the quoted numbers, as well as how the F-35 fits within the anticipated mix of long-range versus short-range aircraft, unmanned systems, sea- and land-based aircraft, “advanced fourth-generation fighters of proven design,” next-generation air superiority, and “game changing” technologies. The report can be classified, but “must include an unclassified executive summary.” (SASC report; Caution, large-sized file)