Bloomberg News (1/7, Ratnam, Capaccio) reports, "The US Defense Department is adding $4.6 billion for development of the F-35 fighter jet and slowing down the purchase of the new aircraft. The information was contained in a letter to the US House and Senate." The Pentagon now expects development to "extend into 2016" instead of 2015. "The delays are needed because 'the final assembly process' at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Fort Worth, Texas, facility is 'still maturing,' the document said." Defense Secretary Robert Gates today said the Marine version of the plane is now on "probation," with orders cut in half. Gates added there were "significant testing problems" that if were not fixed would lead to the plane's cancellation. "The Marines' F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most complex version and has had flight-test delays, some caused by parts shortages or lack of reliability."
Reuters (1/7, Shalal-Esa) reports that along with the program changes to the F-35 program, the Pentagon would purchase more Boeing Co F/A-18 to fill the gap in service. Aviation Week (1/6, Sweetman) reports Gates said the testing issues "may lead to a redesign of the aircraft's structure and propulsion - changes that could add yet more weight and more cost to an aircraft that has little capacity to absorb more of either." During the discussion of the issue, "in a major breakthrough for advocates of long-distance airpower, Gates strongly endorsed a program for 'a new long-range, nuclear-capable penetrating bomber.' The Air Force has been struggling to get this program reinstated since Gates deferred development of the so-called '2018 bomber' in 2009."
David Axe at the Wired (1/7) "Danger Room" blog writes, "Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' plan to trim around $100 billion from Pentagon accounts over the next five years - the details of which he announced today - is being billed as a budget cut. Actually, Gates' latest (and likely last) budget exercise represents a net boost for stuff that flies, swims, crawls and shoots. Especially the things that fly." To Axe, "perhaps most importantly, the Navy will now get extra funding for its X-47 killer drone. The first of the Northrop Grumman-made bots is now in California preparing for its first flight. If all goes well, the X-47 could eventually produce a stealthy, long-range, robotic bomber for the Navy's carriers." The Pentagon is also adding money to upgrade F-15 radars. "The biggest change for the Air Force is the go-ahead to design and build a new, manned bomber. This represents the second attempt in just five years to get a new bomber program off the ground." Flight International (1/6, Trimble) also covered the story.
EELV Program Safe From Defense Cuts. Flight International (1/7, Putrich) reports, "In a plan that would ultimately cut billions from existing Pentagon programmes, at least one space project is safe, according to US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates." Gates announced the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program would have an increased budget, as he said it is needed "to assure access to space for both military and other government agencies while sustaining our industrial base."