The U.S. Marine Corps wants to protect funding for spare parts needed to prepare the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for eventual deployment to the Asia-Pacific region, a general said.
During a conference call with reporters on Monday afternoon, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the service's deputy commandant for aviation, said if the F-35B is cleared to begin initial operations "soon" as expected, the jump-jet version of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made plane is slated to deploy to Japan in early 2017.
The aircraft will head to Iwakuni in the southern part of the country with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-121, the Corps' first operational squadron of the stealthy fifth-generation fighter currently based in Yuma, Arizona, Davis said.
"If I want one thing, I want the afloat spares backup and the deployable spares backup," he said, referring to two separate parts packages. "Bottom line is getting that put together and getting that deployed over there so they fly in and roll in on that. I think that's the key -- making sure they got their parts so they can fly effectively out there in the Pacific area of responsibility."
The Defense Department has requested $11 billion for the F-35 program in fiscal 2016, beginning Oct. 1. That figure includes about $410 million for spare parts, according to Pentagon budget documents. While the overall Joint Strike Fighter has received robust congressional funding, the line for spares has been targeted amid automatic spending caps known as sequestration.
Funding for spares has a direct impact on how many planes the services can maintain and service so they're ready to fly, Davis said. The measure is known as the aircraft mission capable rate.
The F-35 is designed to have a mission capable rate of about 74 percent, though the current figure is closer to 60-65 percent for the F-35Bs that flew in a recent operational readiness inspection -- and Davis said he wants it to be upwards of 80 percent.
"We're tracking to what we thought IOC would be," he said, at about 50 percent. But, he added, "that's a low bar. We need to be higher than that."