No increase in F-35 orders in Trump’s proposed Pentagon budget

The F-35 fighter jet is built by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth.
The F-35 fighter jet is built by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth. Star-Telegram archives

President Donald Trump is expected to propose a $603 billion defense budget for the year beginning Oct. 1 that would add one warship but no more F-35 and Super Hornet jets than the Obama administration had projected, according to officials.

While the Obama administration anticipated buying eight ships in the coming year, Trump’s budget would ask Congress to pay for nine, adding one DDG-51 Flight III destroyer. It also would buy enough Tomahawk cruise missiles made by Raytheon to keep the company’s Tucson, Ariz., plant in operation.

The fiscal 2018 proposal is something of a placeholder until the Pentagon completes a new National Defense Strategy that Defense Secretary James Mattis commissioned Feb. 1. It also doesn’t reflect results of a pending review that Mattis requested in January — in response to Twitter posts by Trump — to evaluate the cost and operational advantages of buying improved F/A-18E/F jets rather than Lockheed Martin’s F-35C model designed for use on aircraft carriers, the officials said.

The decisions from those reviews will be reflected in a five-year plan for fiscal 2019-2023.

The proposed fiscal 2018 budget is about $18.5 billion, or 3.2 percent, larger than the comparable plan left by the Obama administration for fiscal 2018, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized an earlier outline of the defense budget plan as insufficient and vowed to push for more.

The $603 billion includes funding for defense-related spending by the Energy and Justice departments. The Pentagon-only defense request is $574 billion, or about $17 billion more than the Obama administration planned for the year.

In guidance in January, Mattis said the fiscal 2018 proposal would focus on rebuilding readiness, such as “buying more critical munitions” and funding facilities maintenance “at a higher rate” and “growing force structure at the maximum responsible rate.”

The plan to buy more Tomahawks is in line with that guidance. Raytheon has said it would need to produce 196 of the cruise missiles annually to keep the Arizona assembly line open. Obama’s final defense budget ended Tomahawk production in favor of upgrading existing missiles and focusing on the next versions of long-range strike weapons.

The Trump budget also would add funds to buy more precision-guided munitions from Lockheed, Boeing and Raytheon to be used in the fight against Islamic State terrorists. The U.S.-led coalition dropped 3,878 munitions in March, the most since the operation began in August 2014.

The $603 billion defense request is about $54 billion over spending caps established in the 2011 Budget Control Act. It proposes equivalent cuts in discretionary domestic spending to pay for the defense increase, an approach that congressional Democrats have vowed to fight.