Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined a five-year plan Thursday to reduce defense spending by $78 billion, including a dramatic cut in purchases of the F-35 joint strike fighter.
After more than a year of reviews of the oft-delayed and over-budget program, the Pentagon now plans to order 325 jets between 2012 and 2016, 124 fewer than anticipated a few months ago.
Gates' plan would significantly slow production increases at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth factory and likely affect the company's plans for hiring workers over that time.
Lockheed has been anticipating about 200 foreign orders during that period, but most of those nations are also dealing with budget problems and worried about rising F-35 costs.
At a Pentagon news briefing, Gates expressed serious concern about continued problems with the F-35B, the short-takeoff-vertical-landing model designed for the Marines.
The technically challenging aircraft "is experiencing significant testing problems." That, Gates said, "may lead to a redesign of the aircraft's structure and propulsion -- changes that could add yet more weight and more cost to an aircraft that has little capacity to absorb more of either."
The F-35B is "on the equivalent of a two-year probation," Gates said. "If we cannot fix this variant during this time frame ... then I believe it should be canceled."
The F-35B was slated to be the first of the three versions ready for service but is now last.
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