The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is emerging as a big winner in the fiscal year 2019 defense spending bill, as congressional leaders have included over a dozen additional aircraft over what was authorized in the FY’19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Appropriators released Sept. 13 the conference report for the H.R. 6157 “minibus” bill, which includes funding for defense, education, labor, and health and human services. Included is about $674 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD); of that about $9.4 billion is earmarked to procure 93 F-35 aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
The FY ’19 NDAA authorized 77 Joint Strike Fighters. Half of the additional 16 aircraft would be F-35A variants designated for the Air Force, two would be F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (STOVL) platforms meant for the Marine Corps, while six would be built in the Navy’s F35-C design.
The FY ’19 presidential budget request, released this past February, included $7.7 billion for the U.S. military’s JSF. The House version of the defense appropriations bill pushed the funding up to $9.4 billion, while the Senate’s bill included about $8.5 billion. Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on the House Appropriations Committee, represents Fort Worth, where Lockheed Martin [LMT] manufactures the F-35.
Meanwhile, the conference report is not nearly as generous when it comes to funding F-35A aircraft for the Turkish Air Force. Negotiators have chosen to block the transfer of Joint Strike Fighters to the NATO member-state, which helps to produce the jet and has a program of record to purchase 100 aircraft.
The block comes in response to Ankara’s plans to procure the Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems in 2019, which U.S. lawmakers and defense officials have criticized. Two Turkish F-35 aircraft are now stationed at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where Turkish pilots are currently undergoing training, according to a source familiar with the program.
The provision was proposed by the Senate, and prohibits funding to deliver the F-35 to Turkey until the secretaries of defense and state submit a report to Congress detailing the status of the United States’ relationship to Turkey. That language reflects a similar provision included in the FY ’19 NDAA, which became law this past August.