F-35 Buy Number Still Solid

The Air Force’s plan to acquire 1,763 F-35s is still good … for now, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle told defense reporters in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. The Air Force is not ignoring Congress’ request for an updated assessment of how many F-35s the service needs, but delays that have been pushing the buy “to the right” may ultimately affect how many are bought, he noted. “We certainly owe an answer back to Congress,” Carlisle said, but other things are coloring the decision. “One of the things we have done in recent years is budget reality … we haven’t reached the numbers that we wanted to buy at the time, which has spread the buy out to the right, which has caused added problems.” Though Carlisle didn’t say so, those “added problems” could be derailing the service’s carefully constructed timeline of when it will acquire the many things on its shopping list, such as the Long-Range Strike Bomber, JSTARS recap, T-X trainer, and KC-46 tanker. “As we look to the future and what we’re going to do, I think there is a decision to be made on how many F-35s we’re going to buy,” Carlisle said. However, he added, “It’s way too early to make that decision when we’re not even” at the point of declaring initial operational capability yet.