Closing bases would help make the F-35 a lot more affordable, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz. Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Schwartz said he doesn’t have “high confidence” in F-35 lifecycle-cost estimates that exceed a trillion dollars, but that number “did trigger additional scrutiny of those factors we can control.” Enlarging F-35 squadrons to “24, 30, perhaps 36 aircraft per squadron” would generate “considerable savings,” because there would be a need for fewer simulators, less infrastructure, and less support equipment, said Schwartz. The original plan was to base F-35s at some 40 locations, but that’s now down to “the low 30s right now,” he said. “Pending future decisions on squadron size, it could go well lower,” he asserted. He also noted that the Air Force is scrutinizing contractor logistics support across the service, and on the F-35, in particular, because “it’s expensive.” The model for F-35 “right now is CLS,” he said, but “that may change.” Schwartz said the Air Force supports the Pentagon’s request for two more BRAC rounds to shed excess infrastructure. This time, “base closure, as opposed to base realignment, is needed,” he noted.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.