International F-35 Sales Set to Ramp Up, Bring Down Per-Jet Price

By Dan Parsons

By the end of summer, Lockheed Martin will have sealed a deal with the Defense Department for 43 more joint strike fighters, a contract that along with burgeoning international sales should bring the per-jet price down to levels that have long been promised but never delivered, the company’s JSF program chief said June 9.

Lorraine Martin, general manager of the F-35 program, said Lockheed is in the process of negotiating low-rate initial production lot eight with the U.S. government and Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the Pentagon’s F-35 program executive officer.

“I am still hopeful, as is Gen. Bogdan, that we will resolve this here in the summer timeframe,” Martin said.

Each LRIP contract is supposed to be less expensive per-aircraft than the previous deal, she said. Martin has promised that by 2019, Lockheed can produce an F-35 for less than a fourth-generation fighter like the F-16.

“The thing that the general and I have both said is that we have programs in place, that you’ll hear more about as they become more specific and tangible, that can get the aircraft to a fourth-gen price in the 2019 timeframe,” she said. “I do need people to buy them, because the economics of quantity is key.”

“We know that the program has not delivered to its expectations over the years,” she added. “I will continue to bring the price down as the quantities go up and as I put affordability initiatives in place.”

The company’s “cost war room” has made strides driving down the price of aircraft sustainment, as well, she said. Details of these savings are in the offing, but Martin said they would likely be made public in conjunction with Bogdan at the upcoming Farnborough Air Show in the United Kingdom.

“It is fun to be on the world stage and debuting the aircraft in the international arena,” she said. “But more important to me is the learning we are going to get from actually deploying the aircraft in an international environment.”

Two Marine Corps F-35Bs will fly from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Virginia and fly non-stop across the Atlantic in July, with aerial refuelings from Air Force KC-10 tankers. They will be joined by a U.K. F-35B for display and demonstration at both Farnborough and the Royal International Air Tattoo there.

The cross-ocean flight is an official Marine Corps deployment, which will give the military and Lockheed an opportunity to test the jets’ performance and the stateside information support systems, Martin said.

“This will all be extremely useful to us as we prepare the U.S. Marine Corps for IOC in July” 2015, she said. U.S. Air Force initial operating capability is scheduled for 2016.

In the fall, carrier operation testing will begin with an F-35C aboard the USS Nimitz. Land-based carrier testing is underway at Patuxent River, where Martin said the new arresting tail hook that stops jets on a carrier deck is performing well.

Testing of the aircraft’s initial mission-system software, called 2B, which the Marine Corps will use for their IOC is installed on the aircraft and is fully operational, Martin said. Verification of the aircraft’s 7 million lines of code is ongoing and should be completed by the end of the calendar year, she said.
“2B is done. It is out of the labs,” she said. The official “fleet release” of the software will coincide with the Marine Corps IOC in July 2015. Testing is complete on all the weapon systems that the Marine Corps will initially use on its aircraft, she said.

Mission-system software is identical for all three F-35 variants, though 2B is not the final software and hardware configuration. Later aircraft, including the Air Force and Navy versions of the jet, will have the 3F configuration, which introduces greater processing capacity. An intermediate configuration called 3i introduces only the third-generation pilot helmet that will be built by Israel-based Elbit Systems in partnership with Rockwell Collins.

The Marine Corps plans to purchase future jets with the 3F configuration and will incrementally upgrade its older F-35s with the superior software and helmet, Martin said. The helmet will be installed on aircraft in LRIPs seven and beyond. Those aircraft are all in the process of having their wings mated to the airframes, Martin said.

There are about 170,000 lines of code of a total 900,000 lines left to be written for the 3F software, Martin said.

“We have plenty of time, in my estimation, to get the 3F software complete,” she said. Bogdan has voiced concern that the software development could be delayed by up to six months, but Martin discounted his estimate. Eventually, all three variants regardless of national ownership will have identical software suites, making the aircraft fully interoperable among allied fleets.

To date, focus has centered on the U.S. military’s development and purchase of the aircraft. Going forward, international deliveries will become a larger portion of the annual production of the aircraft. About half of all F-35s built in production lot nine and beyond will go to international partners.

“It used to be we would only talk about the U.S. services, because they were first,” Martin said. “These guys are right on their heels,” she said of the international partners and foreign military sales customers.

“We sell the F-35 to any nation the U.S. government allows us to sell it to,” she said. Any nation that flies the F-16, of which there are more than 4,500 in the world, is a potential candidate for the F-35, as the jet complements and improves upon the capabilities of the older fighter.

“I do see great opportunity,” she said. “We have to deliver on our promises, which we have been doing. … I need to bring the price down to something in the range of a fourth-gen price around the world.”

The total program of record for U.S. and international F-35 sales stands at more than 3,000. 

Israel will get its first F-35 at end of 2016. The Israeli military has committed to buying 19 F-35As, but Congress has approved the sale of up to 75 aircraft. Israel is not a partner in the international F-35 program, so its purchases are authorized through the foreign military sales process.

Japan also is buying 42 jets through FMS. The country’s first four aircraft will be built in Lockheed’s Fort Worth, Texas, production facility. The remaining 38 fighters will be built in Japan in partnership with Mitsubishi Industries, Martin said.

Initial operation of the United Kingdom’s land-based F-35s is slated for late 2018. That country’s maritime version of the jet will come online in 2020. Canada’s decision on whether to purchase F-35s as a replacement for its aging F-18 fleet is “imminent,” Martin said.

A recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives urged the nation’s fedeal government to reconsider buying a single-engine aircraft like the F-35. Canada has far-flung territories over which military pilots will fly and be at risk of crashing in the event of engine failure, the report suggested. 

Martin countered that single-engine F-16s — the most abundant fighter in the world — fly every day on multiple continents with an acceptable safety record.

“We have very strong confidence in this engine, in a single engine,” she said. “We have 17,000 hours now on the fleet and that climbs every day.”

Topics: Aviation, Joint Strike Fighter

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