A bipartisan group of 70 lawmakers is asking House appropriators to fund an additional 11 F-35 joint strike fighters in the fiscal 2017 spending bill.
Lockheed Martin's F-35 joint strike fighter is the "backbone of future air superiority" for the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marines as well as several allies around the world, the Oct. 4 letter says. Because of how critical the new technology is, the lawmakers urged those negotiating the compromise between the House and Senate appropriations bills to increase funding for the program to get up to full-rate production as quickly as possible.
"We believe it is essential for Congress to provide the funding necessary to continue increasing F-35 production at a rate sufficient to meet future threats and to reach full rate production of at least 120 U.S. aircraft per year as quickly as possible," the letter says.
The administration requested a total of 63 F-35s this year. The House version already added the 11. The Senate version added four, for a total of 67.
The House lawmakers asked negotiators to keep the 11 additional aircraft — five traditional take-off variants for the Air Force, four that can take off and land on aircraft carriers for the Navy and two for the Marine Corps that can take off vertically. The Senate bill has two extra for the Marines and two more for the Navy, so negotiators would need to add seven to match the House total of 74.
The Senate, however, added $100 million in fiscal 2017 to increase the Air Force's advanced procurement, which will increase its production rate in fiscal 2018. The letter also asked senior appropriators to leave this language in the final bill.
The letter was led by Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, and Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., the two heads of the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus. Granger represents the district where the aircraft is built near Fort Worth, while Larson represents the district that includes F-35 engine maker Pratt & Whitney.
The letter was sent to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., and chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., the ranking member.
Signatories include several prominent members of the House Armed Services Committee, including Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., and Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind.