WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force is deferring the purchase of 45 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters over the next five years to make room for other procurements.
Air Force officials say the move extends F-35 production plans over the next decade, while also allowing more funding for the recently contracted Long Range Strike Bomber among other projects.
U.S. Defense Under Secretary Mike McCord spoke to reporters on Tuesday, noting the Air Force is absorbing the biggest cuts of the three military branches procuring the aircraft.
"We are trying to get it back up to where we want it to be across the FYDP," McCord said. "But it's just a lot of money too, and it's unclear that we will be able to get this program back to the ramps that we had hoped for previously."
The Air Force's announcement that it will be deferring its procurement plans follows an earlier report that it would be cutting five F-35s from its fiscal 2017 budget. In addition to F-35s, the plans also delay the planned replacement of the C-130H Hercules airlifter in addition to planned upgrades for existing fighter aircraft.
"The Air Force is facing a modernization bow wave in critical nuclear and space programs over the next ten years that, under current funding levels, we simply cannot afford," Air Force officials wrote in a statement.