The oft-maligned F-35 program has run into another bit of turbulence. For years, Congress has authorized the Defense Department to purchase more F-35 Lightning II aircraft than the services had made budget requests for. But that largess appears to be coming to an end—just as the US Air Force starts to look for other ways to fill out its fighter squadrons.
In February, the Air Force lifted the curtains on plans to buy a brand-new aircraft to replace the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown said the service is looking at buying what he called a “clean sheet” fighter in 2023, using lessons learned from the efforts behind the recently acquired T-7A Red Hawk trainer. But that plan may have some difficulty taking flight because the Air Force was supposed to already have an F-16 replacement—the F-35A Lightning II.