15 August 2008

F-35 Program Progress Report

The U.S. military is buying about 2,500 aircraft. Allied nations are purchasing an additional 500 or so. Lockheed Martin officials are expecting foreign military sales to hike the total number to more than 4,000 Joint Strike Fighters. . . . Once the line ramps up to full-rate production — possibly as early as 2016 — the company estimates it will assemble about 21 fighters per month, or roughly one aircraft per working day. . . .

There are three variants of the F-35: A conventional take-off and landing aircraft for the Air Force, a short take-off and vertical landing version for the Marine Corps and a carrier-based variant for the Navy.

Lockheed has completed the critical design reviews and last month the first flight of its short take-off and vertical landing variant for the Marine Corps took place. The initial operating capability for that version is expected in 2012, followed by the conventional takeoff and landing version in 2015, and the carrier version a year after that. . . .

To keep the line running steadily, Lockheed has been working to convince partner nations to increase their advance orders for the aircraft. That would reduce the price of the fighters for all potential buyers.

The United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway all have pledged funds to help develop the aircraft. Singapore is said to be considering joining the program. Israel has proposed a five-year defense plan that includes purchasing 25 JSF in 2012. . . .

Lockheed Martin says that the unit cost of the F-35A conventional fighter is less than $50 million, in 2002 dollars, when the contract was initially awarded. By the same accounting, the F-35B and F-35C are about $60 million per copy.

In an audit last year, however, the Government Accountability Office estimated that the F-35 could cost as much as $97.6 million apiece, in 2008 dollars. Norway recently asked the U.S. government to provide information on a potential buy of 48 F-35s for delivery in 2016. Lockheed estimated that, in 2008 dollars, each aircraft would cost $56.5 million, with an additional $2.2 million for auxiliary mission equipment, such as pylons, rails and the helmet-mounted display systems.

From here with a hat tip to Defense Tech.

The Air Force is attemptly to parlay delay in F-35 production into twenty more F-22s beyond the currently planned buy of 183; the Air Force actually wants 381 F-22s and believes that "requirements for 1,763 JSFs would be met only incrementally until 2025." The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is another name for the F-35 program.

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