Secretary Michael Donley said Thursday he was tired of answering questions about the Air Force’s commitment to the F-35 strike fighter, saying the service has no intention of reducing its planned total buy number any time soon. “I’d like to put this to bed as well as I can,” he said during an AFA-sponsored address in Arlington, Va. “I’ve said many, many times [that] decisions about the size of the F-35 fleet are decisions for the 2020s—the 2020s,” he added, repeating the date for emphasis. Donley said any decision on F-35 numbers “would have no effect” in the next five or 10 years, the period during which the Pentagon is dealing with a projected budget cut of some $487 billion. Donley’s response followed a reporter’s question about whether the Air Force was considering purchasing new F-16s to offset the delays in the F-35 program. Donley said that was not on the table since the planned modifications to the existing F-16 fleet “will be more cost-effective” than buying new aircraft.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.