F-35 orders likely cut in Gates' Pentagon spending plan

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramJanuary 6, 2011 

Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to cut orders for the F-35 joint strike fighter over the next three to five years as part of broader plan to reduce Pentagon spending by $100 billion, analysts say.

Gates will brief Congress today on a five-year spending plan for the Defense Department, including yet another restructuring of the F-35 program to compensate for repeated delays in development and testing.

Defense analysts said few details of Gates' intentions have surfaced, but he is widely expected to announce cancellation of the Marines' $13 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, another weapons program plagued by years of delays and rising costs. Analysts said they also expect one or more other big-ticket weapons programs to be targeted as part of the 2012 budget proposal that President Barack Obama will send to Congress next month.

But the Pentagon will likely just scale back the number of F-35s it had previously planned to order from Lockheed Martin over the next few years to pay for continued development and testing, they say.

The Pentagon's commitment to the F-35 hasn't lessened, but Gates has to find a way to pay for the delays and higher costs, said Loren Thompson, consultant to defense contractors and chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute think tank.

"The most likely outcome is a cut in the rate of purchases," Thompson said.

"The problem with the F-35 is it is a program that can't go away. All the services are wedded to this," said Chris Hellman, policy analyst with the National Priorities Project, a policy group that advocates defense cuts to help trim deficits.

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