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Pentagon Delays Full-Rate Production for F-35s

Jan. 3, 2021
The Joint Strike Fighter continues to be manufactured in “low-rate” volumes, but Lockheed’s program continues to wait for full-volume production, pending results of simulated combat testing.

The U.S. Dept. of Defense has delayed indefinitely the planned combat testing for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, meaning that full-rate production of the aircraft cannot proceed. “Technical challenges and the impact of Covid-19” were cited by a DoD spokesperson as preventing planning and set-up for a projected month-long series of simulations of the F-35 jets versus enemy air-defense systems and fighter aircraft.

The simulations are to be conducted using an on-ground simulator at the U.S. Navy’s Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. After the simulations are completed, two to three more months will be necessary to transfer and analyze the data and then draft a final report for delivery to DoD and Congressional leaders.

That report is required before full-rate production can be authorized.

The simulated combat testing was to have been conducted during December 2020, having been rescheduled several times since it was initially planned for 2017.

The twin-engine aircraft – of which nearly 600 have been manufactured since 2006 – will continue to be produced in planned “low-rate initial production” volumes, according to the spokesperson.

The Pentagon will not approve full-rate production until the simulations have been satisfactorily completed, which will be scheduled according to “an independent technical review.”

The F-35 is a series of three different, single-engine aircraft with Stealth capability and designed for ground attack and combat. It's deployed by the U.S Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Navy, and the defense forces of multiple allied nations.

Lockheed Martin Corp. is the lead contractor for the F-35 program, which has a total budget projected at nearly $430 billion through 2044, with additional costs for operational upgrades and maintenance.

Lockheed has not commented on the Pentagon’s delay.

Lockheed delivered 123 F-35 jets during 2020 under the low-rate production conditions, thought that number was short of the target figure number of 141 aircraft. The defense contractor cited the pandemic’s impact on its supply chain for slower construction and fewer completed aircraft.