Pentagon vows to save F-35 funding amid fear of cuts

Pentagon vows to save F-35 funding amid fear of cuts

Pentagon vows to save F-35 funding amid fear of cuts

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter production at Lockheed Martin Corp’s factory. REUTERS photo

Top Pentagon officials underscored their support for the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter, vowing to try to protect funding for the most expensive U.S. weapons program despite continued U.S. budget uncertainty and cost over-runs.

The $396 billion program is already seven years behind schedule and 70 percent over initial cost estimates.

“We’ll try to protect F-35,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top arms buyer, told a defense conference. “There’s no question about its priority. Despite sequestration, we’ll still have a budget that’s adequate to support F-35.”

Kendall and other U.S. military officials spoke out in support of the program as it faces potentially damaging budget cuts that could lead to further delays and cost increases.

But Kendall said the F-35 program still required much hard work on technical issues.

A congressional watchdog agency said on March 11 that the Pentagon needs to budget $12.6 billion each year through 2037 to finish developing and paying for all the fighters it plans to buy. The Government Accountability Officereport put the program’s total cost at $400 billion.

Lockheed is building three models of the F-35 for three U.S. military branches and eight partner countries that helped fund the plane’s development.But rising costs, schedule delays and mounting budget pressures have forced some of the potential buyers to rethink their plans.