Washington — The US Navy slows f-35 orders amid rising readiness grades of its fighter fleetin the fiscal year 2023 than the manufacturer Lockheed Martin is able to produce as part of a planned catch-up strategy.
Navy officials hope to utilize this break in the order schedule to invest money in other priorities.
Although senior leadership in the US Navy stated that COVID-related problems, such as supply-chain shortages, were the driving force behind the decision to seek fewer F-35C Joint Strike Fighters in the budget for the following year, this is just part of the story that the Navy slows f-35 orders amid rising readiness grades of its fighter fleet.
Two F-35c lightning II planes in the air
Equally important is the Navy's management belief that the current fighter stock is in the best condition it has been in twenty years.
This means that the service's self-declared fighter shortfall can be safely allowed to continue beyond the year 2030, according to the Navy officers.
Both increasing the readiness rates of its existing jets and closing the almost 50-jet deficit on a quicker timeline are two of the most significant projects that have been performed recently.
In February 2022 the head of Naval Air Forces stated that the fighter inventory, which includes both fourth-generation F/A-18E-F Super Hornets and fifth-generation F-35C Joint Strike Fighters, could reach the required size by the year 2025.
He also stated that the Navy was working on developing even more aggressive readiness goals after seeing early success.
Even though COVID-related slowdowns of the F-35 production line caused the timing of strike fighter shortfall to be closed to be pushed back to 2025, it was credited to the work that the Navy and its industrial base were doing to extend the lives of Super Hornets.
The original estimate for when the shortfall would be closed was the year 2030, but this was later revised to 2025.
However, seven weeks later, the Navy said that it would be releasing a proposal for FY 23, which would extend the shortage until the year 2031.
During a number of hearings this spring, the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gildai, and Naval Secretary Carlos Del Toro cited issues with COVID and the supply chain as the reason for requesting only nine F-35Cs in the request for FY 23.
Three f-35c lightning II moving through the clouds
I am particularly concerned about the pace at which the industry has been able to deliver the F-35.
The statement was made by Del Toro on May 18, 2022, during a hearing held by the House of Representatives subcommittee on the defense of appropriations.
For me, this is a significant concern and I just don’t think we need to make these investments if we can’t actually keep up with the delivery of these planes to the Navy itself. There are probably better applications for this [money] in the short term, until they are able to recover from their supply chain problems and start delivering them at a faster pace.
Lockheed Martin is falling behind on its delivery timetable but also the Navy and Lockheed Martin are collaborating on a "COVID delivery smoothing plan" that would bring the firm back to the same delivery levels it had before the epidemic by the year 2025.
According to two Navy spokespeople, the request for aircraft that the Navy has made for the FY 23 is still a significant amount lower than what the firm is able to manufacture at this time under that plan.
They said that there were two primary reasons why the Navy was chosen to delay the acquisition of the F-35: first, the service needed to release funds for other key acquisition priorities; second, the high readiness of aircraft today made it a less risky solution to extend shortage and redirection of funding elsewhere.
According to statements made by Spokeswoman Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, issues with suppliers and absenteeism had caused a delay in the delivery of planes.
Lockheed Martin and the government collaborated to develop a COVID smoothing delivery plan that will speed up delivery timelines between now and Lot 17 deliveries in 2025.
Hillson stated that Lockheed Martin is succeeding in accomplishing its present objectives as outlined in the strategy.
Two F-35C Joint Strike Fighters in the air
Nevertheless, she said that Lockheed Martin possesses the production capacity to support up to 30 F-35C aircraft per year for the Navy and the Marine Corps.
The requested amount for the budget for FY23 falls far short of that maximal production capacity.
The Navy asked for a total of nine in FY 23 budget but requested 15 for each of the next years in the five-year budgetary estimate.
If there hadn't been problems with the supply chain, the CNO informed MPs that the Navy would have asked for 100 aircraft over the course of the next five years, which would have broken down to 20 aircraft per year.
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