Current Top Line F-35 number holds at 2443 according to Pentagon Official

The F-35 Lightning II

The current number of F-35’s to be purchased — the largest weapons program ever by many billions of dollars—is holding steady at 2,443 according to Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work.

Work noted in a letter to Senator John McCain (as reported by that: “The validated U.S. Department of Defense requirement for the F-35 program is currently 2,443 aircraft.”

This news is in contrast to what Gen. Joseph Dunford, the current Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing last July.

“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 in response to pre-hearing questions.

“Until the analysis is complete, we need to pursue the current scheduled quantity buy to preclude creating an overall near-term tactical fighter shortfall.”

Chairman Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford, USMC. Photo Courtesy: Reuters

The F-35 has suffered years of delay and billions of dollars in cost overruns, making it an easy target for Congressional adversaries and suffering from poor public perception. Public perception was so bad that Lockheed Martin and the DoD launched a 14 city “Get Well” tour earlier this year to tell the good news story about the program.

Critics note that with the F-35 aircraft being so expensive, the top line number of 2443 is not achievable with current DoD budgets. However, the Joint Program Office emphasized in their Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) Cost Data press release that the cost of an F-35A had dropped $1.8 million per jet, the F-35B $.7 million per jet and the F-35C by about $1 million per jet. This resulted in a total procurement decrease cost of $7.5B.

While those procurement numbers are fairly minuscule for an expected trillion dollar program, they are headed in the right direction. However, the DoD is in a bit of a quandary because the total buy number is critical to achieving savings for the overall program (think economies of scale). Additionally, procurement costs should go down as the production line becomes more efficient and the configuration of the jet is finalized. The problem has been delays in testing, including software malfunctions that have delayed overall production efforts. This has pushed the procurement costs up and full operational capability further into the future.

With most things these days in Washington, the Pentagon left wiggle room in their letter to McCain and remained neutral in their commitment for how they plan to buy future F-35’s.

“While a review of the total program of record quantity is thus prudent, the focus of the Department for the foreseeable future is to acquire F-35s at the highest rate affordable in our budgets,” Work said.