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Pentagon budget 2023: USAF secretary sheds light on F-35s procurement decisions

The USAF wants more F-35s but must balance competing priorities such as NGAD and JATM. (US Air Force)

The US Air Force (USAF) cut its FY 2023 F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter procurement in exchange for other funding priorities, as the Block 4 updates remains delayed, according to the service's top official.

However, the USAF is still asking Congress for more of the fighters.

“We had to make some difficult choices with this budget; when we looked at the attack air portfolio, we had a number of things that we needed to do,” USAF secretary Frank Kendall told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on 19 April. “We needed to fully fund the Next-Generation Air Dominance [NGAD] platform. We wanted to complete the buy of the F-15EX, which has a couple more years to go now. We need to get on with some of our advanced air-to-air missiles like [AIM‐260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile] JATM.”

Among budget concerns, Kendall also said that the USAF needs the upgraded Block 4 software and hardware for the F-35A conventional variant to meet the “pacing challenge with China, for their advanced systems”.

The Pentagon is in a contract negotiation with Lockheed Martin over a roughly 400 F-35 lot buy. But the Block 4 update is behind schedule. Kendall said that while the USAF lowered its F-35 procurement rate, it can raise it “if there's more progress or more money, then we'd be prepared to do more there”.

While the USAF says it needs to focus on new programmes and technology, the USAF still wants more F-35s, according to its unfunded priority list, obtained by Janes

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