Senate Panel Supports More F-35s Than Trump Requested at $675B

By Marc Selinger | June 27, 2018
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An F-35B short-takeoff-and-landing variant during weapons testing. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel (SAC-D) approved a $675-billion fiscal year 2019 defense appropriations bill that would fund 89 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 12 more than the Trump administration requested.

The U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy would get a total of 41 F-35Bs and F-35Cs, up from the request for 29 jets, according to a bill summary. The Air Force’s request for 48 F-35As would be unchanged.

The full SAC plans to take up the bill Thursday. Increasing the overall quantity would help achieve economies of scale and reduce the per-aircraft price, noted Sen. Richard Shelby, the chairman of both the SAC and the SAC-D.

The U.S. House version of the bill, which the full House plans to debate this week, would fund 93 Lockheed Martin-built F-35s, a 16-jet increase from the request.

Unlike the House bill, the SAC-D bill would allow the Air Force to cancel buying a new aircraft to replace the aging E-8C JSTARS ground-surveillance plane. The SAC-D would provide an additional $375 million so the Air Force could focus instead on developing an advanced battle management system (ABMS) that fuses threat information from various airborne and other sensors.

The SAC-D approved additional funding for several key technology areas, including $929 million for hypersonics, $846 million for test and evaluation infrastructure, $564 million for offensive and defensive space capabilities, $447 million for microelectronics, $356 million for cybersecurity, $317 million for directed energy, $308 million for artificial intelligence and $100 million to develop a space-based tracking system for missile defense.

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