But Where Will The Money Come From?
Hoping to build momentum for the proposal ahead of a new
presidential administration, last week President Bush's nominee for
Chief of Staff of the US Air Force surprised lawmakers with the
announcement he had been given approval to plan for more purchases
of the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet between 2010 and 2015.
The Associated Press reports General Norton Schwartz's
statements before the Senate Armed Services Committee also
confounded some in the US Air Force. Many don't expect the bold
plan to really go anywhere, since a new president will enter office
in January 2009 with his own set of budgetary priorities... which
may or may not include spending more capital on advanced fighter
Current plans call for the Air Force to take delivery of 24
planes in 2011, with increases to 42 and 48 in 2012 and 2013....
but Schwartz said those numbers could surge to as many as 110
deliveries annually by the middle of the next decade. Defense
analyst Loren Thompson says he's heard similar musings from the
Office of Management and Budget.
"I’ve been told by people who deal with OMB that it
supports a plan to recommend $57 billion in defense budget
increases for 2010" and beyond, said Thompson. Much of that money
would be used to replace worn out equipment, Thompson says, and to
counteract rising fuel costs.
In addition to his role as COO for the Lexington Institute,
Thompson also serves as a consultant to Lockheed Martin,
manufacturer of the F-35. Lockheed's program manager for the
advanced multi-role jet, Dan Crowley, compares the current
situation to one faced by Lockheed some 30 years ago, when the
company rolled out its F-16.
"We think they will add some aircraft in 2011," Crowley said.
"People forget that we had a similar or greater ramp on the
The Pentagon is currently hashing out its long-range budget
exercise, which will forecast desired spending levels for a
six-year period starting in 2010. Those numbers, by definition,
aren't set in stone; analyst Steve Kosiak, of the Center for
Strategic and Budgetary Assessment in Washington, says the plan "is
to some extent a real plan... and to some extent it’s a
Pentagon wish list."
Wish list or no, one question left unanswered by everyone
concerned is where the Pentagon expects to find the money for
all those extra planes. Even if the lame duck Bush administration
does hash out a new budget before January, the incoming president
is likely to make significant changes to the plan.
"The fact a different administration would have to decide on
spending the money and the fact we are facing a budget deficit of
$500 billion makes any increase problematic," Thompson admits.