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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II Program


F-35/JSF production totals have been suggested to more likely be in the 2,000-3,000 aircraft range than the 4,000-5,000 or 6,000 sometimes cited. Foreign partners have expressed intent to buy about 700 aircraft between 2012 and 2015, but no formal agreements had been signed as of early 2005. In 1996 the program included 2,978 aircraft for the US: 2,036 for the Air Force, 642 for the Marines, 300 for the US Navy, as well as another 60 for the Royal Navy. The May 1997 QDR reduced procurement for the US to 2,852: 1,763 for the Air Force, 609 for the Marines, and up to 480 for the Navy. The 1997 QDR noted that up to 230 of the Navy's 480 JSFs could be replaced by F/A-18E/Fs, depending on the progress of the JSF program and the price of its Navy variant compared to the F/A-18E/F.

As of 2001 the first operational Joint Strike Fighter, re-designated as the F-35, was scheduled for delivery in FY08. A total of 2,852 planes were scheduled for delivery starting in 2008 for the US Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and a small number to the British Royal Navy. Other nations interested in participating in the program included the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. The requirements of 1,763 strike fighters for the Air Force, 609 for the Marine Corps and 480 for the Navy had held steady since the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review.

As of 2001 program estimates pegged the recurring JSF unit flyaway costs at $37 million for the Air Force conventional takeoff and landing variant, $46 million for the Marine Corps short takeoff vertical landing variant and $48 million for the Navy carrier version, in 2002 dollars.

As of late March 2002 the Pentagon was reviewing a proposal to cut JSF production by 400 aircraft and limit the Navy's F/A-18E/F acquisition to 460 aircraft versus 548. The JSF reductions, which could be split about equally between the Marine Corps STOVL and the Navy's carrier versions, would reduce the total buy to about 2,600.

In April 2002 the Navy, concerned that it could not afford the number of tactical aircraft it planned to purchase, reduced the number of JSF aircraft for joint Navy and Marine Corps operations from 1,089 to 680 by reducing the number of backup aircraft needed. News reports in 2002 indicated that the proposed reduction would cut 259 jets from the Marine Corps buy, and 50 from the Navy purchase, resulting in a total F-35B buy of 350.

The Pentagon requested $3.4 billion for JSF development in FY03, up from $1.5 billion in FY2002. At that time the planned budget was $3.8 billion in FY04, $5.7 billion in FY05 and $5.7 billion in FY06.

As of early 2003 the Air Force was tentatively scheduled to receive its first F-35 in 2008, but initial operational capability (IOC) for the service was set for 2011. The US Navy, along with the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, was scheduled for a 2012 IOC. The Marine Corps, with an IOC planned for 2010, would be the first of the military services to operate a fleet of F-35s.

By the end of 2003 it appeared that the cost of developing the Joint Strike Fighter could increase by as much as $5 billion, to $38 billion, and the project could fall more than a year behind schedule. The increase would be mostly because of the higher-than-expected cost of developing parts of the technology and the addition of new capabilities for the fighter jet. Part of the additional cost would be to add anti-tampering technology to the plane, which would prevent foreign buyers from replicating sensitive systems. That could add $1 billion to $2 billion to the program's budget. The proposed increase would also put aside more money for unforeseen changes in design requested by the military or for development problems. The Joint Strike Fighter was expected to be the largest weapons program in Pentagon history, ultimately costing nearly $200 billion. The first fighter was expected to enter service in 2008.

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