WASHINGTON — More than 130 members of the House of Representatives have signed a letter urging continued financial support for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, signaling a potential roadblock for lawmakers hoping to cut F-35 procurement in fiscal 2022.
The April 28 letter called on the leadership of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel to fully fund the Defense Department’s request for F-35s during FY22, as well as any additional F-35s listed in the service’s unfunded requirements list.
The letter — signed by 132 lawmakers in total — was authored by the co-chairs of the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus: Reps. John Larson, D-Conn.; Marc. Veasey, D-Texas; Michael Turner, R-Ohio; and Chris Stewart, R-Utah.
“We are concerned that any cuts in the Fiscal Year 2022 will leave the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps with a capability gap that legacy aircraft or new variants thereof cannot fulfill, while also reducing the enterprise’s ability to continue cost reduction activities at the planned rates, ultimately adding unnecessary life cycle cost into the system,” the lawmakers stated.
The letter comes weeks after a heated House Armed Services Committee hearing on the program, where the chairmen of two HASC subcommittees warned they might cut purchases of the aircraft in FY22. Over the past month, HASC Chairman Adam Smith repeatedly voiced concerns about the program’s cost.
For FY21, Congress funded a total of 96 F-35s at a cost of $9.6 billion. That sum — which comprised 60 F-35A conventional takeoff-and-landing variants, 10 F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing models, and 26 F-35C carrier variants — included 17 planes added by lawmakers in excess of the Pentagon’s request.
The Biden administration has yet to release its FY22 budget, and it is unclear whether the Defense Department will seek additional F-35s this year.
However, Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., who chairs HASC’s Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., who leads its Readiness Subcommittee, said they may longer support the practice of adding F-35s to the budget.
“Given the overall affordability concerns that exist within the program, I would not support any requests for additional aircraft beyond what is contained in this year’s president’s budget request,” Norcross said during an April 22 hearing on the F-35.
Garamendi later added: “I can assure you that this year, if anybody suggests a plus-up, there will be one hell of a fight. And I don’t propose to lose it.”
Meanwhile, the signatories of the letter argued that the program is mature enough “to continue to the ramp to full rate production,” when a total of 134 F-35s would be purchased per year: 80 F-35As, 24 F-35Bs and 30 F-35Cs.
Additionally, the lawmakers are seeking additional funds for the aircraft’s Block 4 modernization program, specifically to “restore previous funding reductions and to address performance challenges to support the integration of new weapons and critical capabilities,” the letter stated.
They also call for Congress to make investments in F-35 sustainment and spare parts, as “current forecasts predict that the organic depots may only be able to meet approximately 42% of the required repair capacity.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.