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Pentagon budget 2023: USAF reduces F-35 procurement, but grows combat air funding

Two US Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, fly over the 86th Air Base, Romania, on 24 February 2022. (USAF)

The Pentagon requested USD11 billion for 61 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters for fiscal year (FY) 2023, 33 fewer than the 94 it had previously planned for in FY 2023, within a USD18.499 billion aircraft procurement plan.

About 45% of that procurement plan is for combat aircraft (USD8.389 billion) and 23% for modifying in-service platforms (USD4.257 billion), according to Pentagon briefings slides provided to reporters on 28 March. In FY 2022 combat aircraft procurement was funded with USD5.963 billion.

The FY 2023 request includes 33 F-35A conventional variants (instead of 48) for the US Air Force (USAF), the 13 F-35C carrier variants (instead of 26) for the US Navy (9) and US Marine Corps (4), and 15 F-35B short take-off and landing variants (and rather than 20) for the marines.

Since FY 2018 the US Department of Defense (DoD) has requested between 70 and 79 aircraft annually for the F-35 programme.

The Pentagon is amid contract negotiations with Lockheed Martin over the next F-35 lot buy that includes around 400 aircraft, and as the type's Block 4 software and hardware update is taking longer than expected.

The total F-35 procurement plan of 1,763 aircraft is not changed by this request, and rather this likely is mean to delay purchases until the Block 4 upgrade is ready – thereby enabling the newer software and hardware to be fitted on in-production aircraft rather than retrofitted later.

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