By Debbie Gregory.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the next generation fighter jet, is getting closer to full service. The program has been running years behind schedule and is billions over budget.
The single-engine F-35 comes in three variants. The A version is flown by the U.S. Air Force, the B version by the Marines, and the C version will become part of the U.S. Navy’s fleet.
Last year, the Air Force claimed the F-35 was “combat ready,” having reached a stage called “initial operating capability.” Recently, a squadron of Air Force F-35A Joint Strike Fighters was deployed to the Baltics as part of the European Reassurance Initiative.
The deployment is meant to send a message, and puts the F-35 as close to the action as it’s ever been, underscoring U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s belief that U.S.-Russian relations were at a “low point.”
The F-35 deployment to Europe comes after the Marine Corps’ deployment of F-35s to Asia to train with the South Korean military.
The F-35’s cost issues were addressed at the end of last year when then-president-elect Donald Trump tweeted about the “tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35.”
Trump has claimed that he was directly responsible for helping save $700 million on a February order of 90 F-35s, adding that costs will continue to shrink as more planes are delivered.
“Now you know that’s a saving of billions and billions of dollars, many billions of dollars over the course of – it’s between 2,500 and 3,000 planes will be the final order,” Trump said in an interview, projecting additional savings as the aircraft ramps up production.
The $400 billion price tag for the program is double the original budget, prompting Defense Secretary James Mattis to commission a review of the program in an effort to cut costs. But the Pentagon has also worked with Lockheed Martin to bring the costs down.