Sequester could ax F-35 jets

Cuts to the defense budget under sequestration threaten to kill at least a half-dozen F-35 fighters in 2014 across the services, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The Air Force could lose four or five of the 19 F-35 fighters it requested in the 2014 budget due to sequestration, principal deputy Air Force secretary William LaPlante told a congressional panel Wednesday.

The Navy and Marines Corps would also be compelled to cut one F-35 from each of their variants under sequestration, service officials at the House Armed Services hearing said in written testimony.

The Pentagon has said it will protect funding to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program under sequestration, but officials said cuts were still coming if the sequester is not reversed.

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The Pentagon’s proposed 2014 budget would be reduced by $52 billion under sequestration.

LaPlante told the Armed Services Tactical Air and Land panel at Wednesday’s hearing that the three F-35 fighters were threatened in 2013, but they negotiated a good price on the next lot of planes to essentially buy back the fighters threatened.

"We don't have an opportunity to do that in ’14,” LaPlante said. “We'll lose somewhere between four and five airplanes in ‘14.”

LaPlante said the budget cuts would also require a reduction of $110 million from the Air Force’s F-35 development program, which would force delays for testing flights and cripple some follow-up development.

Wednesday’s hearing examined how sequestration and the possibility of a continuing resolution in 2014 would affect the Pentagon’s acquisition programs.

The subpanel’s chairman Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) warned that things will be much worse in 2014 if sequester isn’t averted.

“Beginning in fiscal year 2014, the situation will be different,” Turner said. “Unlike last year, funds from unobligated balances have now been used up, and the “must pay” delayed bills from fiscal year 2013 are also now due. This means that investment accounts are likely to see an approximate 14 percent decrease in fiscal year 2014.”