The Air Force and Lockheed Martin are getting closer to agreeing on what F-35 per-flying-hour costs will be, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. The service and the company have used different metrics for the flying hour cost in the past, Welsh told reporters in the Pentagon on Jan. 11 during a briefing with Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. Welsh said soon after becoming Chief of Staff last August, he asked the F-35 program office and acquisition staff “to figure out exactly what the differences were” and reach a common number. “That process is pretty far down the path,” he said, “and we’re getting to a point where we have a pretty good understanding of the cost per flying hour as we will define it in the Air Force.” The numbers will be “a little bit different” for the Marine Corps and Navy variants, but “we’re trying to kind of resolve all that, too,” said Welsh. It’s getting easier to reach a common number because the Air Force and marines are operating some F-35s and have “actual numbers” now to work with, he said. Getting to a common number is important “for funding support, for our allies’ satisfaction and comfort level that the airplane is going to do what it’s supposed to do,” he noted. Welsh also said F-35 operators at Eglin AFB, Fla., are impressed with the aircraft’s performance. He quoted 33rd Fighter Wing Commander Col. Andrew Toth, who runs the F-35 schoolhouse there, as saying designers “got the airplane right.” Welsh said such a comment is “really a pretty powerful statement.” (Donley-Welsh transcript)
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.