Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee are lambasting appropriators who want to buy additional F-35 fighter jets in fiscal 2025 above the Pentagon’s budget request.

The House’s FY25 defense spending bill would procure 76 new F-35s, eight more than the 68 requested by the Defense Department. This puts the spending bill at odds with the House’s FY25 National Defense Authorization Act, passed 217-199 earlier this month, which would cut F-35 procurement down to 58 aircraft.

“At a projected total lifecycle cost of over $2 trillion dollars, the F-35 is the largest program in DoD history despite routinely not meeting cost, schedule, and performance metrics,” Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee, said in a Wednesday statement with Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the tactical air and land forces panel.

“This is unacceptable program execution and Congress should not reward this behavior by buying additional aircraft above the President’s budget request,” the statement read.

Smith and Norcross highlighted that the Defense Department stopped accepting F-35 deliveries from manufacturer Lockheed Martin last year “until the enterprise could successfully deliver, test, and field the next version of the Operational Flight Program” — a benchmark it has not yet met nearly a year later.

The two Democrats and Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-Va., introduced a bipartisan amendment that would have cut F-35 procurement in the spending bill and bring it in sync with the 58 F-35s authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act.

But the House Rules Committee, which oversees amendment votes, opted not to put Smith’s proposed F-35 reduction on the floor for a vote. The new House Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., previously chaired the Rules Committee.

Smith’s proposed reduction of 18 fighter jets from the spending bill would have amounted to a roughly $2 billion procurement cut for the Air Force and Navy.

The Smith amendment would have shifted funds in the form of $526 million to the Air Force to help address F-35 performance issues with development, production and testing.

“It is the duty of Congress to support the long-term viability of the F-35 program and ensure the vast sums of taxpayer money footing the bill are spent where they can ensure program success,” said Smith and Norcross. “A simple short-term reduction in acquisition rates would enable us to mitigate the known systemic problems, correct course and get the F-35 program and workers up and running at full speed.”

Lockheed Martin has faced intense bipartisan scrutiny from the Armed Services Committee for repeated F-35 delays, most recently with the Technology Refresh 3 upgrades. The TR-3 hardware and software upgrades would provide F-35s with better displays, computer memory and processing power.

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., attempted to amend the NDAA with a provision that would have authorized the defense secretary to seize intellectual property from Lockheed Martin and open it up to competition, taking aim at the F-35′s software problems.

Moulton sought a vote on the amendment when the Armed Services Committee marked up the legislation in May but had to withdraw it after a Congressional Budget Office cost determination. But multiple committee members, including several Republicans, said they would support Moulton’s efforts to seize intellectual property from Lockheed Martin in the years ahead should F-35 issues persist.

Smith urged caution on Moulton’s efforts, despite his shared frustrations with Lockheed’s execution of the F-35 program.

“In law, we would possibly have to compensate them for that, which would be really, really, really expensive,” Smith said.

Despite efforts from Smith and his fellow Armed Services Committee members to cut F-35 procurement next year, appropriators will have the final word on how many of the aircraft to buy in the defense spending bill.

Further compounding the uncertainty, the Senate version of the FY25 NDAA would procure 68 F-35s — the same number requested by the Pentagon. It remains unclear how many F-35s Senate appropriators seek to procure, as they have yet to release their FY25 defense spending bill.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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