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Lockheed, partners pledge to pump $170 million into F-35 program

FORT WORTH, Texas — Lockheed Martin and its two main partners in the F-35 program have agreed to invest $170 million over the next three years to help bring down the cost of the over-budget, next-generation fighter jet by the end of the decade.

Under the agreement with the Department of Defense announced today, called a “Blueprint for Affordability,” Lockheed, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems said they will implement cost-reduction initiatives to lower production costs on the Fort Worth-made jet, with the goal of reducing the average cost of a F-35 to about $80 million. It currently exceeds $100 million apiece.

“This is a significant change in business approach within the F-35 program,” said Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the Pentagon’s F-35 program manager. “Industry partners will make an upfront investment into cost-cutting measures that the government and taxpayers will reap benefits from by buying F-35s at a lower cost. By 2019, we expect that the F-35 with its unprecedented 5th equal in cost to any other fighter on the market, but with far more advanced capability.”

The announcement came on the eve of two major airshows in Great Britain where the F-35 had been scheduled to fly before a June 23 engine fire in Florida prompted the U.S. government to ground its fleet. The F-35 is no longer expected to fly in the Royal International Tattoo on Friday, and the Pentagon has yet to say whether or not it will be cleared to make its debut next week at the Farnborough International Airshow.

Four B-models — the short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 — are scheduled to take to the skies on Monday at Farnborough, officials said Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth said.

The B model is designed to operate from bases and aircraft carriers near front-line combat zones. U.S. Marines were expected to fly three of the aircraft at the show, with the fourth to be flown by a British pilot.

During a July 1 interview with the Star-Telegram, Lockheed’s top executive in Fort Worth said he was hopeful that the aircraft would still be permitted to fly at the airshow.

“We’re very excited,” said Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed’s Fort Worth-based aeronautics division. “We’re very proud of where the airplane is. We’re very proud of how well it performs, how well the flight testing has gone.

“This is an opportunity for the rest of the world to see the airplane, especially the B-model, to see it hover, a key capability of the B-model. To have this airshow where everyone can get to see that, is just a thrill for us.”

During the interview, Carvalho said the company was waiting for the results of a safety investigation into what caused the plane to catch fire.

“At this point and time, we’re all waiting for the results of the safety investigation, which will ultimately determine when we could start flying again,’’ he said. “We’re letting the process play out.”

The fire is the latest blow to the F-35, the costliest U.S. weapons system, which has endured technical problems and cost overruns during its development. Over the past year, the Pentagon said Lockheed has made progress in addressing performance and cost issues on the program, which is now estimated to reach nearly $400 billion for more than 2,400 planes.

More than 6,000 people work directly on the F-35 program at Lockheed's complex in west Fort Worth, which employs about 13,300 overall. More than 100 F-35s have been delivered to the U.S. military.

The first F-16 flew at Farnborough in 1980. Lockheed Martin has produced 4,500 of the aircraft, officials said.
 

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