Pentagon defends $1 trillion fighter jet fleet

Samuel King Jr./AP

The Pentagon insisted Monday that funding for 2,443 new radar-evading F-35 fighter jets is crucial, despite the fleet’s steep price tag of $1 trillion over the next 50 years.

“It is needed to address projected future threats,” Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, Defense Department spokeswoman, said of the fleet of Joint Strike Fighters. “Current systems can’t do the same job for less.”

Reuters reported the cost estimate Monday, saying Pentagon officials are analyzing how to bring down the expenses, and added the figure is derived from preliminary flight data from the still-in-development war plane, which is being built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

Defense reaffirmed its commitment to the program after reviewing it during the fiscal 2013 budget process, according to Morgan. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta previously announced on Jan. 26 that the department had slowed the pace of F-35 procurement “to be able to complete more testing and allow for developmental changes before we buy in significant quantities. We want to make sure before we go into full production that we are ready."

Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, deputy Marine Corps commandant for aviation, told Reuters that costs are expected to go down by 2016, once the military finishes retrofitting already produced planes to fix problems discovered during concurrent development testing. If costs don’t decrease enough, Reuters said, the Pentagon will have to take other thrifty measures, which could include reduced flight time and purchasing fewer planes.

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