Lockheed Martin Corp. has a new, $427.1-million contract from the Naval Air Systems Command to produce ancillary equipment and pilot flight equipment for the low-rate initial production (LRIP) sequence of Lot 11 of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter jet program. Last month, the defense contractor received a potential $5.58-billion contract modification from the U.S. Navy concerning Lot 11 — the upcoming round of production for that centerpiece defense program.
The F-35 is a single-engine, Stealth-enabled aircraft designed for deployment for ground attack and combat, and available in three variants: the F-35A, for conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL); the F-35B, for short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL), and the F-35C carrier-based variants for Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant.
Lockheed is the lead contractor for the F-35 program, with major contractors including BAE Systems, Northrup Grumman, and Pratt & Whitney. The entire program includes hundreds of suppliers, in the U.S. and in other countries where the defense forces are confirmed as customers.
Over 230 of the aircraft have been built to-date in 10 rounds of construction. Lot 11 will include 48 F-35As for the U.S. Air Force, 18 F-35Bs for the U.S. Marine Corps and eight F-35Cs for USMC and the Navy. Lot 11 has a completion date of December 2020.
The more recent award will involve work for Lockheed operations at Inglewood, Calif., White Plains, N.Y., St. Petersburg and Orlando, Fla., and Fort Worth, Tex.
The new contract reaffirms the progress of the critical defense program, which is controversial because of the high unit costs per aircraft. While the F-35 program supplies fighter jets to foreign defense forces, the U.S. Dept. of Defense is the primary buyer and criticisms from Congress and the White House have forced Lockheed and other major suppliers to commit to cost control efforts.
In February, the Pentagon and Lockheed settled a new deal totaling $8.2 billion for the LRIP of Lot 10, which reduced the cost for that series by $728 million from the previous production series (Lot 9). That puts the unit cost for each jet at $95 million for the F-35A, $123 million for the F-35B, and $122 million for the F-35C.
Lockheed’s comments indicate that the cost-cutting efforts will continue in the future production rounds.