In written testimony for his nomination hearing last month, Gen. Joe Dunford seemed to signal that a review of the total projected buy of the F-35 — 2,443 in total, spread across three models for the Air Force, Marines and Navy — was underway.
"Given the evolving defense strategy and the latest Defense Planning Guidance, we are presently taking the newest strategic foundation and analyzing whether 2,443 aircraft is the correct number," Dunford wrote then.
"We're not making any formal evaluation or revisit to those objectives at this particular moment in time," Cook said.
"With all programs going forward, the [fiscal year 2017] budget process, every program is going to be reviewed," he said. "Obviously, the budget situation here in Washington will have a big impact on that, but there is nothing at this point to indicate any formal review of this number. But there will be the standard budget review of all programs going forward to FY 17."
In other words, a formal, Pentagon-wide review of the 2,443 figure is not underway. But with the Pentagon looking for ways to keep costs down in the face of lower-than-desired budget levels going forward, all programs are at least being looked at. That situation will likely escalate if Congress looks towards a long-term continuing resolution.
"Every program is going to be under review, F-35 or otherwise, but I wouldn't suggest to you there has been any change in the outlook for the F-35," Cook added.
After almost a decade of struggles with cost and technology, the F-35 program hit a major milestone last month when the Marines reached Initial Operational Capability on the jet.
Speaking ahead of that announcement, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for Marine aviation, explained that one of his great concerns is keeping the F-35 production line firing at top speed.
"Right now, I can't imagine wanting to cut back on the buy, because right now I'm replacing a greater number of F-18s, Harriers and Prowlers," Davis said in a July 27 conference call. "Obviously I'll defer to the commandant and do what he says. He and I have not talked about reducing the number of F-35s, so I'd have to go back and talk to him about that."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.