Despite being the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program, the F-35 fighter jet is likely to emerge largely unscathed from next year’s $52 billion in mandatory sequestration cuts.
“The F-35 is a very high priority,” Frank Kendall, undersecretary for acquisition at the Department of Defense, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Could we protect it completely? I’m not sure. We have to look at all the tradeoffs.”
The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported how the F-35 program has cost billions more than originally projected and remains perilously behind schedule. The Pentagon has ignored proposals to cut planned procurement of the plane in half, despite estimates that the 2,500 aircraft will cost over $1 trillion to maintain.
Kendall said that the DoD views the program as an indispensable part of future defense strategies and that ongoing production of the aircraft must increase to reduce the costs per plane.
“We are way below the capacity of the factory” that produces the F-35, he said. “Ramping up” that production is “the key to eventually getting the costs down.”
That means that the F-35 will likely be sheltered from the sequestration storm scheduled for October 1, the start of the new fiscal year. In a letter to lawmakers last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that the $52 billion in new compulsory cuts would combine with the $9.8 billion already stripped from this year’s budget to reduce “the size, readiness and technological superiority of our military.”
“I strongly oppose cuts of that magnitude,” Hagel wrote.
Kendall said that military leaders are more concerned with limiting damage in the short term than securing sustainable long term savings.
“They are managing it with the assumption this will be fixed eventually,” he said.
But although the Pentagon may expect President Obama and Congress to create a new deficit reduction plan, should the cuts move forward Kendall believes they would have a severe impact.
“We’d have to look hard at cancelling programs,” he said, adding that many others would have to be restructured.
Just don’t expect the F-35 to be a part of that list.
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