An additional fourteen Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters have been approved as part of the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) fiscal year 2021 (FY21) budget request. This includes a dozen F-35A aircraft, the conventional take and landing variants, as well as two F-35Bs, the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant that can be used on warships and airstrips with short runways.
Additionally, the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, approved the United States Air Force’s transfer of six F-35s meant for Turkey to join its own fleet.
According to the Conference Report Summary for the FY21 NDAA, this is a “pivotal time in our nation’s history.” The act “focuses on maintaining the strength of our defense enterprise as our nation grapples with a once-in-a-generation health crisis and a heightened social crisis against the backdrop of sustained systemic discrimination.”
The bill authorized $9.1 billion for the F-35 program, and that includes those six aircraft originally ordered but never delivered to Turkey, after Ankara was ejected from the program for its acquisition of the Russian-built S-400 Triumf air defense system.
“Continues critical oversight of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and initiates new reporting requirements from the Department on software testing methodologies, Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) redesign and fielding, mitigation of physiological episode occurrences, and critical issues approaching the full-rate production decision occurring in 2021,” the HASC summary noted.
Beyond the F-35
The FY21 NDAA supported the budget request and service’s Unfunded Priorities Lists by authorizing ninety-three F-35 aircraft for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps; as well as the Air Force’s F-15EX tactical fighter program and the budget request for the T-7A training aircraft program. The NDAA also called to provide funding for development of Air Force and Navy Next Generation Air Dominance capabilities; and to increase funding for advance procurement to support the purchase of twelve F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft in fiscal year 2022 (FY22).
The NDAA also called for the Air Force to retain a minimum of 287 tactical airlift aircraft and ninety-two bombers. Additionally, it provided for full funding of the Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider stealth bomber program and provided the first year of procurement dollars. The Air Force had requested $2.8 billion for Raider R&D, along with $193 million for 2022 to launch procurement of the 100 aircraft that the service said it would need.
The Air Force has announced plans that as the B-21 Raider entered service, the aging B-52, B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers would be taken out of service. A larger fleet of up to two hundred B-21 bombers is possible, but that entirely bound to fiscal realities.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.