Home » Aviation » Pentagon, Lockheed Martin Agree to New F-35 Contract


Pentagon, Lockheed Martin Agree to New F-35 Contract

Workers can be seen on the moving line and forward fuselage assembly areas for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Lockheed Martin Corp’s factory located in Fort Worth, Texas. Lockheed Martin photo.

The cost of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is dropping by millions of dollars per plane under a new production contract agreed to by Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon, which was announced today. 

The $11.5-billion contract covers a batch of 141 fighters known as Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lot 11. The bulk of the aircraft covered by this contract – 91 fighters – will be delivered to the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. The remaining 35 aircraft are for delivery to international partners, according to a Lockheed Martin statement.

“Driving down cost is critical to the success of this program,” Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the F-35 Program Executive Officer, said in a statement. “We are delivering on our commitment to get the best price for taxpayers and warfighters. This agreement for the next lot of F-35s represents a fair deal for the U.S. Government, our international partnership and industry. We remain focused on aggressively reducing F-35 cost and delivering best value.”

Under the LRIP-11 contract, Lockheed Martin was able to reduce the cost of each F-35 variant as follows:

  • The F-35A, the variant flown by the U.S. Air Force and most international partners, will cost $89.2 million per aircraft under LRIP-11, representing a 5.4-percent price drop from the $94.3-million cost per aircraft under the contract for the previous F-35 production lot.
  • The F-35B, the vertical takeoff and landing variant flown by the U.S. Marine Corps, will cost $115.5 million per aircraft under LRIP-11, representing a 5.7-percent price drop from the $122.4-million cost per aircraft under the contract for the previous F-35 production lot.
  • The F-35C, the arrested landing variant for aircraft carrier flight operations used primarily by the U.S. Navy, represents the most significant price drop. LRIP-11 F-35C variants will cost $107.7 million each, an 11.1-percent price reduction from the $121.2 million it cost to build each F-35C under the contract for the previous production lot.

Negotiators from Pentagon and Lockheed Martin have been hashing out details of the LRIP-11 contract for more than a year, with a focus on reducing costs. When speaking with reporters in March, Winter conceded he had hoped to finalize a deal by the end of 2017. At the time, he expected to announce the LRIP-11 contract in May 2018.

However, the lag in signing the LRIP-11 contract was not expected to delay the production of the aircraft. Component-parts are purchased a year before work on the first LRIP-11 aircraft starts. Winter said in March prep work for the LRIP-11 aircraft had already started.

The contract announced Friday appears to have accomplished much of what both sides had hoped. Winter had previously stated the LRIP-11 contract would increase production to 130 aircraft. With 141 aircraft under this contract, the entire production rate moves closer to what Lockheed Martin officials have long stated is their goal – to build 150 F-35 per year.

  • Curtis Conway

    Lockheed Martin designed the F-35 plant to crack out one/day. That should be the goal, and we need to get there soon. Then the concurrence aircraft have to be brought up to speed ASAP.

    • Honestly, we should have been at this production rate years ago. All the money saved by not buying and upgrading “concurrent” airframes was largely wasted by slower production and the need to keep the legacy fighters going far longer than they should have.

      • Duane

        Not doing concurrent would leave us with a fighter in the late 2010s and for the next 50 years with 2000 tech. Ugh!

        Enormous improvements in technology have been pocketed since 2000. In 2000, very few people had anything but dial up internet, smart phones did not exist, and good smart phones would not exist until 7 years later. 4G did not exist, Data displays with compactness and high resolution and high frame rates such as used in the HMD did not exist, and what did exist was positively ancient and clunky. Computing power and software capabilities were stone-age compared to what is standard today. Engine tech was primitive. Etc. etc. etc. F-35 designers claim many of these exact technologies were not even thought of in 2000, yet were incorporated into the F-35 by the 2010s.

        The military finally managed to develop an earth altering monumental increase in capability without delivering an obsolete aircratt the day it went operational.

    • Duane

      1 a day was never the plan or expectation for the F-35. At max production, about 175-180 per year was always envisioned for full rate production. The 141 contracted for in LRIP-11, which roughly corresponds to a year of production, is getting pretty close to max.

      Remember that “full rate production” for the Super Hornet today, an extremely mature design with an extremely mature assembly line and supply chain (upwards of 25 years old) is only about 18-25 aircraft per year. With the F-35, LM will end up building more supersonic jet fighters in fewer years than any other aircraft in history, including the F-16. The grand total will be near the 4,500 F-16s that have been built, and are still being built,,but will be produced over about 25 years vs. the 45-50 year production run of the F-16.

    • CharleyA

      During the SWAT process, the fast-assembly dictum had to go to meet weight reduction goals.

      • Curtis Conway

        The Lockheed Martin early press on the manufacturing line and how it functions stakes the capability, and makes the case. This is the first RETRACTION I have seen, and I have not seen anything in publications that alludes to rapidity of manufacture.

        • CharleyA

          Read Graham Warwick’s September 7th article in Aviation Week. USNI doesn’t allow links, but here is the relevant paragraph, directly quoted / sourced:

          “Changes affected all three variants. Cross-sectional area was increased to improve structural load paths and internal equipment volume, but at the expense of supersonic performance. Quick-mate joints were replaced with conventional integrated-mate joints, reducing weight but almost doubling the final-assembly timespan. The SWAT effort saved the STOVL F-35 and improved all three variants.”

      • Curtis Conway

        I’m not buying it. saving weight and not putting things in, or putting in a modified part should not extend production time.

        • CharleyA

          Take it up with Warwick then – he’s the source. We do know that LM is having difficulties meeting production goals.

  • Ed L

    As the politicians would say “almost real money “

  • Duane

    The next increment is slated to be part of a multi year procurement covering Lots 12 through 15, to be executed in FY 2020 (next year) and representing full rate production. Both LM and the PEO are committed to getting the A model down to sub-$80M in that deal. The B will end up somewhere near $100M, and the C will drop into the $90Ms.

  • John

    Did I get the math wrong… 141 fighters in the contract, 91 to the AF, Navy and Marines. 35 to international partners?

    • The article got the numbers wrong. The correct numbers are 141 jets in total including 91 for the US (53x A, 24x B, 14x C), 28 for international partners, and 22 for non-partner nations.

    • Curtis Conway

      New Math . . . It’s like Defense Procurement!

  • That F-35C drop is huge. I was expecting it to remain the most expensive since the Navy is still moving slowly on it. I wonder if the increased Super Hornet buys / upgrades played a role in it?

    • DaSaint

      Bingo!

  • Ed L

    260 work day a year after subtracting weekends and holidays 141 F-35’s to be built in a year. Not quite one a day