WASHINGTON --- The Pentagon on Monday confirmed plans to postpone production of 179 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters built by Lockheed Martin Corp over the next five years to save $15.1 billion, but it said the risk was "manageable."
The U.S. defense budget for fiscal 2013 funds 13 fewer airplanes than initially planned, saving $1.6 billion on the multinational, radar-evading fighter plane, the Pentagon's biggest weapons program.
This is the third restructuring in recent years of the F-35 program. The Pentagon expects to spend $382 billion over the next two decades to develop and buy 2,443 of the new warplanes.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in January, a year ahead of schedule, lifted a two-year "probation" on the Marine Corps B-model of the plane, which can land like a helicopter He said the jet's technical issues were on their way to being resolved.
Panetta lauded progress on the overall F-35 testing program but announced last month that the Pentagon would slow its production to avert costly retrofits as it began implementing $487 billion in defense cuts over the next decade.
A spokesman for the Pentagon's F-35 program office said the U.S. military remained committed to buying all 2,443 jets in its original plans, and was focused on completing developmental tests so the plane could enter service.
"We remain committed to the development of the Joint Strike Fighter. Our total numbers remain strong at 2,443," said Joe DellaVedova, the program's spokesman.
In documents released with the fiscal 2013 budget request, the Pentagon comptrolle’rs office said the decision to slow production was based on "changing department priorities, funding constraints and the need to reduce concurrency."
Concurrency refers to the Pentagon's plan to start producing the new plane before flight tests were begun, or completed.
It said the department "determined that is a manageable risk to reduce procurement by a combined total of 13 aircraft in fiscal year 2013 and 179 aircraft from FY 2013 to FY 2017." (end of excerpt)
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