May 21 (UPI) -- A U.S. House subcommittee wants to approve only half of the Pentagon's spare parts purchases for F-35 jets in reviewing 2020 budgetary plans.
Last week, the Democrat-led House Appropriations Committee released a draft of the fiscal year 2020 defense funding bill, which includes $690.2 billion in discretionary spending. The legislation includes 90 F-35 aircraft, 12 more than requested, and eight F-15EX aircraft, meant to recapitalize the F-15C/D fleet in the U.S. military.
The fiscal year begins in October.
The House Appropriations Defense subcommittee is tasked with scrutinizing the military budget. Lawmakers are questioning the Air Force's fighter jet procurement and parts shortages for the F-35 fighter jets.
The panel plans to approve half of the $728.7 million request for spare parts for Navy and Air Force F-35s until the Pentagon has "received an adequate cost proposal" from Lockheed Martin.
That includes selling cost and technical data rights to the parts for others suppliers or even produce some at its own military maintenance depots.
"I assume Lockheed Martin will fight this as consensus growth expectations for the company include a healthy increase in revenues from sustaining the F-35 fleet," Byron Callan, a defense analyst with Capital Alpha Partners, told Bloomberg Quint. "If the government gets data rights they can compete spares and software or do some of this at their own depots and software labs."
The supply chain has a backlog of 4,300 parts for F-35s because of supply chain issues, according to the Government Accountability Office
A GAO report released in April said the aircraft couldn't fly aabout 30 percent of the time during a seven-month period last year because of shortages and mismatched parts.
"Currently the F-35 enterprise is unable to comprehensively and accurately inventory parts, efficiently move parts between locations, accurately match deployable spares packages to deploying units, or capture cost information for all the parts that are procured," the report noted.
The lawmakers concluded that the Air Force's planned aircraft investments largely fall in line with the "Air Force We Need" blueprint submitted to Capitol Hill earlier this year, according to Air Force Magazine.
The House report says buying seven fifth-generation fighter jets for every one fourth-gen fighter strikes a "reasonable balance" between pursuing more capable aircraft and maintaining the size of the F-15 fleet.
But the committee is questioning the strategy of the F-35.
"The Department of Defense, and the Air Force in particular, have sent conflicting and confusing signals with respect to the F-35 program," according to an appropriations report. "The fiscal year 2020 request repeats a pattern of shifting aircraft quantities to future years, reducing the planned procurement from 84 to 78. Further, the Air Force submitted a fiscal year 2020 budget request that flattens F-35A procurement at 48 aircraft per year through the future years defense program despite the F-35A program of record remaining stable at 1,763 aircraft."
The House Appropriations Committee's bill recommends the Air Force purchase 68 new fighters in 2020, including eight F-15EXs from Boeing for $985.5 million and 60 F-35As from Lockheed Martin for $5.1 billion.
The committee's suggestion is four fewer fighters than the 72 jets a year the Air Force says would achieve the goals of the National Defense Strategy. The "Air Force We Need" envisions growing the department from 312 to 386 squadrons, including seven new fighter squadrons.
The budget doesn't reflect that ambition, according to the report.
"The resources to initiate and sustain such growth simply do not exist within the fiscal year 2020 budget request or future years defense program, nor does the Air Force's five-year plan for fighter procurement achieve 72 new aircraft within any year," according to the report. "The plan that has been submitted to the committee requests 48 F-35A aircraft in fiscal year 2020 and every year thereafter through 2024, a reduction of 30 aircraft compared to the 2017 Selected Acquisition Report profile for the F-35 program."
Even if the F-15EXs are added to the mix each year, total fighter procurement would grow to only 66 jets annually.