Despite criticisms about the F-35 Lightning II program, Lockheed Martin Corp. announced it has successfully met production goals and plans to add 400 workers in order to support increased production levels for the fighter-jet program. That detail followed Lockheed’s report that it has hired over 1,800 new employees to support the F-35 program since January 2017.
The announcements were made in connection with a White House event, Made in America Day, which highlighted a wide range of products manufactured domestically.
Earlier this month, Lockheed announced a new program to provide employees with better training opportunities, responding to President Trump’s new National Council for the American Worker program with new internships, continuing education, on-the-job training, and “re-skilling."
Lockheed Martin is the primary contractor for the F-35, a single-engine, aircraft designed for ground attack and combat, and deployed by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps, and the defense forces of multiple allied nations.
"The F-35 is an iconic product that represents the best of U.S. innovation, technology leadership, and advanced manufacturing," stated Lockheed chairman Marillyn Hewson. "The program supports 194,000 direct and indirect jobs nationwide, and as we ramp up production we are creating even more opportunities for American workers. The men and women who participate in the F-35 program take pride in delivering unmatched, fifth-generation capabilities to the U.S. military and our allies around the world."
The F-35 program has been beset with delays and is routinely criticized by Congressional and Defense Dept. critics for its long pattern of cost overruns.
Reportedly, F-35 unit costs range from $94.6 million for F-35A to $121.8 million for the F-35C and $122.8 million for the F-35B. However, Lockheed Martin noted it has implemented cost-saving initiatives and significantly reduced costs, and that production rate increases will reduce unit costs further.
It stated F-35 unit costs have declined by over 60% since the first production lot, and that the program is on track to reduce the cost of an F-35A to $80 million by 2020.
To date, according to Lockheed, about 310 F-35s have been delivered, among more than 3,000 aircraft anticipated over the current life of the program. The OEM added that it met its 2017 delivery target of 66 aircraft, an over 40% increase from 2016. In 2018, it is on track to deliver 91 aircraft, and is preparing to increase annual production volumes toward 160 aircraft annually in 2023.