The U.S. House Armed Services Committee approved legislation that directs the Pentagon to provide battle-ready dates for all versions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by the end of the year.
The panel adopted an amendment to the 2013 defense authorization bill that requires the Defense Department to provide the so-called initial operational capability (IOC) dates and reports that detail what constitutes meeting those milestones.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the committee’s ranking member, introduced the legislation as an alternate to a similar amendment drafted by Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., Akin’s amendment called for withholding half of the Pentagon’s procurement funding in 2013 should DoD not provide lawmakers with an F-35 battle-ready date.
The Pentagon’s 2013 budget request includes more than $6 billion in procurement for 29 of the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 jets. It also includes requests another $2.7 billion for development.
Smith argued that approving an amendment that would restrict funding could send the wrong message to countries planning to purchase the fighter.
Canada has capped its funding for the program, in recent weeks and Italy announced plans to shrink its F-35 buy from 131 to 90 jets in February.
International purchases help drive down the price of each jet.
Using 2012 dollar values, the Pentagon projects the Air Force version of the F-35, the aircraft being purchased by most international customers, to cost $78.7 million. The carrier version’s is projected to cost $87 million, and the Marine Corps’ short-takeoff, vertical-landing version, $106 million.
The IOC dates for the F-35 have been pushed back numerous times throughout the plane’s development. In 2011, DoD officials projected the Marine Corps jet reaching IOC in 2014 or 2015 and the Air Force and Navy aircraft after 2018.
The individual service chiefs will determine the specific IOC dates, Vice Adm. David Venlet, the F-35 program manager told reporters after a May 8 Senate Armed Services airland subcommittee hearing.
“The formal definition of IOC has more of a formality to it than it does the actual presence of aircraft with capabilities and squadrons that are trained and ready for deployment,” Venlet said.
The service chiefs are waiting to receive the F-35 “test and evaluation master plan,” which will outline the initial operational test and evaluation schedule. Venlet is supposed to deliver that document this fall.
In addition to the F-35, the committee also voted to approve an amendment introduced by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., that prohibits the Pentagon from closing bases. DoD, in its budget request, has asked Congress to authorize two Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) rounds.
The amendment passed by a 44 to 18 vote, according to a statement provided by Wittman’s office.
At press time, the full committee was still debating amendments and had not yet voted to approve to the full authorization bill.