DSEI NEWS: Lockheed Martin in Talks With Potential European F-35 Customers (Updated)
U.K. Ministry of Defence
LONDON — F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin is in preliminary talks with multiple potential new customers for the joint strike fighter, a senior company executive said Sept. 15 during a briefing on the aircraft at the DSEI trade show.
“We’ve got great interest here in Europe, [and] not only the competition ongoing with Finland. ... We have interest in three or four other countries that are talking to us right now,” Gary North, vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, said during a meeting with reporters.
When National Defense pressed him for a more exact number after the briefing, North said he couldn’t provide details other than it was “multiple” countries and that they were in Europe.
His comments came as Lockheed had good news to share about the oft-criticized program.
New statistics revealed that the cost to fly the aircraft will be coming down in the next five years. Critics frequently point to the F-35’s high cost per flight hour and lack of availability.
Lockheed Martin's portion of the total U.S. fleet cost-per-hour to fly the plane has come down 44 percent over the past five calendar years and the company has committed to reducing it a further 30 percent over the course of a three-year contract from fiscal year 2021 to 2023, North said.
A sustainment contract issued by the F-35 Joint Program Office Sept. 14 said the company has committed to bring the cost down to $30,000 per flight hour by the end of the contract in 2023.
A slide North showed at the briefing stated that such costs would go down a total of 40 percent over the next five years.
Thirty-nine percent of the operations and sustainment cost per flight hour are from Lockheed Martin, 47 percent from the three U.S. services that fly the F-35 — the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps — and 14 percent from engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, according to JPO statistics North displayed on a chart.
“We believe over the next five years as these contracts go from multi-year contracts, to hopefully longer lead [performance-based logistics] contracts, that we will be able to drive costs down,” North said.
“We are all— across the enterprise — absolutely committed to bringing the cost down and the availability up across the lifecycle of the program,” North said. He attributed the recent reductions to the maturity of the aircraft, advanced technologies and the speed of the supply chain.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force currently has 21 F-35s with three more expected by October for a program of record that stands at 138 aircraft.
North was asked about the deep skepticism among the British aviation press that the 138 number would hold up.
“The program of record is the program of record,“ North said. ”We are well aware of the challenges and the discussions of sustainability and maintainability — from all governments. We’re working very hard to ensure that all governments and all our customers understand our commitment to maintain the program of record."