Pentagon Said to Seek Funds for 57 Lockheed F35s, Up From 55

The Pentagon will request funding in fiscal 2016 to buy 57 F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp., two more than previously planned, according to two government officials.

The Defense Department’s previous five-year plan had projected buying 55 of the fighter jets during the year that begins Oct. 1, said the officials, who asked not to be identified before President Barack Obama submits his budget to Congress on Feb. 2.

If approved by lawmakers, the acquisition would mark a major increase for a program that’s experienced cuts amid tight defense budgets and setbacks in testing of the costliest U.S. weapons system. The Pentagon had requested 34 of the jets for the current year, and Congress increased that to 38.

The projected budget for 55 aircraft was $9 billion; the added cost for two more planes wasn’t immediately available.

The F-35 represents 17 percent of sales for Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed, the largest U.S. defense contractor.

Pentagon officials have said they would do as much as they could to protect the aircraft from the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. Those cuts will resume in fiscal 2016 unless they’re eased or overturned by Congress and the president.

The further the F-35 advances, the stronger Senate support becomes “because you’ve got more invested in it,” former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin told reporters in September.

“The further along it gets the more likely it is that it will get to the finish line,” said Levin, who retired last year.

Pentagon Budget

The Pentagon will submit a budget of about $534 billion budget on Feb. 2, about $34 billion over the sequestration caps.

Defense Department officials have said they want to provide stability for the F-35 program after postponing orders for at least 425 planes since February 2010.

The fiscal 2016 plan calls for buying 44 Air Force models of the plane, nine Marine Corps versions and four Navy models, the officials said.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a September audit that the Pentagon continues to “develop and field the most costly weapons system program in history without knowing whether the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps can pay for it.”

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