Lockheed Martin Corp. is once again delivering new F-35 fighter jets, having arrived at an agreement with the U.S. Dept. of Defense over the maintenance costs on currently operating F-35s, a dispute that led the Pentagon on March 29 to stop accepting new aircraft.
The defect is described as airframe corrosion, which was first discovered in 2017.
No specific details of the agreement have been released by the Pentagon or Lockheed. Citing its own sources, Reuters news service reported the repairs will cost $119 million, and will be completed for all the affected aircraft within two years
The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is a single-engine aircraft fitted with Stealth technology and designed to deploy for ground attack or combat. More than 200 of the high-tech jets already are in service with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Navy, and with defense forces in the U.K., Australia, Italy, Norway, and elsewhere.
The F-35 program is beset by numerous cost-related problems, some relating to the delivery costs and others to maintenance issues. Lockheed and other major contractors have been working to reduce the unit costs for new deliveries, but maintenance issues present a separate budgetary concern for the service divisions. DoD has recently suggested that maintenance and repair costs to the jets currently in service could force it to reduce the number of new aircraft it purchases.
Lockheed and its F-35 program partners (Northrop Grumman Corp, Pratt & Whitney, and BAE Systems plc, and others) are scheduled to deliver 90 new jets this year, building toward a peak production rate of 160 new jets per year by 2023.