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The Air Force will cut “up to 24” F-35s out of its five-year program objective memoranda due to sequester, despite the fact that it is a “protected” program, Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said Monday at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast event in Arlington, VA. Fanning told reporters afterward the cut would skew toward the end of the five-year period, because in the near-term, “we’ve got to get the per-unit cost down, so we’ve got to get that (production rate) ramp up.” However, the production line can “only absorb about a 50 percent increase” per year, he noted. Before the sequester, USAF planned to buy about 200 F-35s between now and Fiscal 2018. However, Fanning noted that because USAF is acquiring the most F-35s, whether the Navy and Marine Corps slash their own buys “doesn’t impact us” as much as once thought; rather, “the others are kind of riding off of us.” Fanning said he’s still hopeful the F-35 will be cost-comparable to 4th-generation fighters, a goal of program executive officer Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan. “That’s why we’re trying to get that (production) number up by the end of the FYDP, to start achieving the savings” that come with higher rates, Fanning said.