The U.S. Air Force is carrying out a tactical aircraft study as it prepares its budget request for fiscal year 2023 and looks to whittle down the types of fighter jets it operates from seven to four platforms, Defense News reported Tuesday.
The four fighter platforms could include the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter; the sixth-generation Next Generation Air Dominance system or NGAD; F-15EX; and F-16 or its potential replacement.
According to the report, the Air Force plans to procure 1,763 F-35A jets throughout the program of record but the ongoing study could potentially reshape the service’s inventory of fighter jets as it works to determine the right mix of aircraft to counter advanced threats by 2030s and come up with a plan to reduce the number of legacy platforms.
Lt. Gen. Clinton Hinote, the deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements at the Air Force, said the service finalized the study’s initial draft, but Air Force Secretary and three-time Wash100 Award Frank Kendall has requested for additional analysis.
Some analysts have raised questions on whether the Air Force will maintain or cut the F-35 program of record.
Todd Harrison, an aerospace and defense budget expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it is uncertain whether Congress would be in favor of reducing the overall buy.
“Earlier this year, we started hearing a lot more negative sentiment coming out of Congress about the F-35 program, and quite frankly the Air Force has seemed to soften on the program as well,” Harrison said. “But it may be too soon to call it. Negative talk does not necessarily translate into negative appropriations.”
Brett Ashworth, a spokesman for Lockheed, said the service should take a look at the “cost per effect” when it comes to assessing the F-35 jet’s value.