House lawmakers seek 90 new F-35s, a promising boost for Fort Worth

House lawmakers are poised to consider a new defense funding bill that calls for 90 new F-35 stealth fighter jets and promises to block any transfer of the fighter to Turkey.

The plan would provide $8.7 billion for the new fighters, 12 more than the Pentagon originally requested. The House Appropriations Committee plans to vote Tuesday on the proposal, the final step before going to the full House.

Ken Calvert, the top Republican member on the Democrat-majority defense subcommittee, which approved the bill last week by voice vote, said that the inclusion of the fighters should pass through Congress “with no problem.”

Calvert, a California Republican, said the subcommittee approved 90 planes because that number would lower the price per aircraft and be more efficient for Fort Worth-based Lockheed Martin Aeronautics ’s production of the plane.

Kay Granger, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, represents part of the Fort Worth area and has often appeared at Lockheed Martin’s public unveilings and presentations involving the F-35.

It’s unclear how the Senate may react, as senators have not yet begun writing up the bill, said Jay Tilton, a spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The U.S plans to produce 2,456 of the fifth generation fighters and produce about 700 for overseas partners. It is the most expensive weapons system in the Pentagon’s history. Earlier this year the Pentagon estimated the program’s current long-term production and maintenance price tag would top $1.2 trillion.

Lockheed Martin officials have not responded to requests for comment.

The bill also prohibits any further transfer of F-35 fighters or weapons systems to Turkey, which comes as the latest attempt to bar Turkey from the multi-nation F-35 program after the country announced its intent to purchase Russian-made air defense systems.

Turkey has committed to buying 100 total of the Air Force variant of the jet and the country manufactures portions of the plane. Turkey received its first F-35 in June 2018, and is on track to receive eight more over the next three years.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has said the U.S. will not sell Turkey any additional fighters if it purchases the S-400 air defense system, because it would enable Russia to gain insights into how the F-35 operates. The Russian S-400 air defense system can track and shoot down aerial targets with surface-to-air missiles.

Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican on the defense subcommittee, said there were concerns that Russia would better learn how to defend against the F-35 if the jet was exposed to Russian missiles. Lawmakers and other U.S. government officials have continually warned Turkey that the purchase of Russian S-400 would lead to the end of Turkey’s involvement in the deal.

The Fort Worth F-35 manufacturing plant could face setbacks because of Turkey’s exclusion. Cole said his main concern was not American manufacturers, but the safety of American fighter pilots.

“When we put (pilots) out there, we’re asking them to do something very difficult,” Cole said. “We need to give them every advantage and we need to not undercut the advantages we have given them by putting important technology in places that it could be compromised. We owe that to the men and women who are flying those aircraft.”