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Sept. 19, 2011—Senate defense appropriators are concerned that concurrency in developmental testing and production of the F-35 strike fighter could necessitate costly upgrades to early production aircraft later on and ultimately might jeopardize the future of the entire program.

Accordingly, these lawmakers think it's best to keep "the total near-term production quantities" of the F-35 at the current Fiscal 2011 levels "to allow time" for the aircraft to complete full hardware qualification, according to the report [caution; large-sized file] that accompanies the Senate's version of the Fiscal 2012 defense spending bill.

The report is based on the mark-up of the Pentagon's Fiscal 2012 budget request by the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense panel on Sept. 13.

Therefore, the senators reduced the Air Force's F-35A request for 19 F-35As by two aircraft and its advanced procurement funding request by seven airplanes. Similarly, they cut the Navy’s procurement request for the F-35C carrier variant by one aircraft and slimmed the sea service’s advanced procurement request by six airplanes.

The panel cited the concurrency experienced by the F-22 program as the cause of their concern. The Air Force had to go back and upgrade 81 of its earlier F-22s to a common configuration, at a cost of $700 million, noted the lawmakers That's above and beyond the $9.4 billion that the Air Force "has spent or plans to spend" on continued F–22 modernization, states the report.

Based on current production schedule projections, there could be between 167 and 229 F-35s that will require upgrade to a common configuration at an estimated cost of $10 million per unit or $1.67 billion to $2.29 billion in total, stated the lawmakers. That's not counting the $771 million in cost growth already encountered with the first three F-35 production lots, they said.

"Similar performance, concurrency, and common configuration issues cost an additional $56 million per aircraft on the F-22 program, none of which were ever accounted for in the per-unit cost," reads the report. "If the Joint Strike Fighter continues on the same path and its costs are not brought under control, the committee believes that the program’s future could be in jeopardy."

Overall, the panel cut $695 million from the F-35 program next fiscal year.

In addition to the F-35, the panel is concerned about the progress of the A-10 wing replacement program, which has "experienced significant delays and has not delivered a new wing since the program began procurement in Fiscal Year 2010," according to the report.

The panel cut the entire $145.8 million included in the President's Fiscal 2012 budget request for this program, directing the Air Force to provide a report to Congress by Feb. 6, 2012, outlining "the way ahead."

The report is to include "specific corrective actions taken by the Air Force to return the program to a realistic schedule based on acceptable cost and performance."

The senators also want the Air Force to invest "a larger portion" of the anticipated savings from retiring six B-1B bombers in Fiscal 2012 into the modernization and sustainment of the fleet than the 40 percent that the service had identified.

The panel's report also called the Air National Guard's basing plan for its newest airlifter, the C-27J, "highly uneconomical and inefficient." The senators think the current plan to base four aircraft at each location would not "adequately support crew proficiency, operational readiness, and infrastructure investment."

In addition, "Planned contingency deployments will further exacerbate these shortfalls and diminish the National Guard's capability to respond to domestic emergencies," reads the report.

However, the panel fully funded the procurement of nine aircraft in Fiscal 2012 and encouraged the Air Force "to continue procuring these aircraft" in Fiscal 2013 and beyond.