Senate Aims To Keep Tabs On F-35 Sustainment Costs

The U.S. Senate has approved a proposal that would require the Pentagon to regularly brief lawmakers on efforts to contain sustainment costs for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The measure would require that the Department of Defense, in its quarterly F-35 program briefings to the congressional defense panels, include “an assessment of efforts to ensure that excessive sustainment costs do not threaten the ability to purchase the required number of aircraft.” 

Maintenance staff inspect one of the 10 Luke AFB F-35s sent to Nellis AFB for a training deployment, April 15, 2015. Photo: U.S. Air Force.

Maintenance staff inspect an F-35. Photo: U.S. Air Force.

The proposal, by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), received Senate approval late June 11 as an amendment to the fiscal year 2019 defense authorization bill. The bill already called for quarterly program updates but did not specifically require that they address efforts to curb sustainment costs.

Military leaders have expressed concern about the F-35’s high sustainment costs, saying they must come down for the plane to be affordable. For example, the Air Force, which plans to buy 1,763 Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built F-35s, more than any other service, hopes to wring out enough savings to allow the stealth fighter’s sustainment costs to match those of legacy fighters (Defense Daily, March 29).

The Young measure was one of more than 40 amendments that the Senate approved as an “en bloc” package.

An amendment by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) would require a report on improvements that Air Force training ranges need to prepare pilots to fight against advanced threats.

“Years of focusing on low-intensity stability operations and multiple budget cycles under spending caps have resulted in undercapitalization of fifth-generation training resources,” her amendment says.

An amendment by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) would require an Air Force report on degraded airfields that could impair operations.

An amendment by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would set up a pilot program to test the feasibility of using machine-vision technology to determine the authenticity and security of microelectronic parts in weapon systems.          

An amendment by Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) would require an assessment of the 31-year-old U.S. arms embargo on the Republic of Cyprus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he hopes to finish deliberations on the bill this week.

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