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JSF STOVL Flies But Cuts Loom

The Joint Strike Fighter program has had a newsworthy week. Top of the list on the positive side was the 14-minute low speed flight of the short takeoff and vertical landing version of the plane at Patuxent River.

The plane flew with the fan engaged. It's roughly a month late -- they were supposed to fly the first week of December. But they did fly.

The program overall continues to suffer death from a thousand cuts -- OK --maybe just one big one. As my colleague Tony Capaccio reported at Bloomberg earlier this week

Gates’ directive would cut planned purchases by 10 jets in fiscal 2011 and a total of 122 planes through 2015, according to a budget document. The cuts amount to 25 percent of the 483 planes originally scheduled in those years.

More than $2.8 billion that was previously budgeted to begin equipping the military with F-35s would instead be used to continue development of the next-generation combat jet.

The budget document Tony got said the reductions will be: 10 planes in 2011, to 42; by 17 in 2012, to 45; by 52 in 2013, to 77; by 20 in 2014, to 90; and 23 in 2015, to 107.

Of course, just because this document was signed by Gates doesn't mean it is the last word, but it may be. Given the size of the program it is difficult to move that much money around at the last minute.

Gates very publicly committed to the JSF program when he visited Fort Worth at the end of August. I imagine there have been some pretty tight-lipped discussions in his office about the plane's continuing problems with cost and schedule.

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