FORT WORTH — The $1.1 trillion spending bill approved by Congress will provide funding this year for 29 F-35 joint strike fighters produced by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and 19 V-22 Ospreys made by Bell Helicopter.“This defense bill solidly funds Fort Worth programs,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst in Washington, D.C.Production of F-35s at Lockheed Martin’s west-side plant will be about the same as last year but is expected to pick up over the next decade as the company continues to iron out problems. Over time, that means billions of dollars in economic benefits to Tarrant and neighboring counties, Lockheed officials have said.“The U.S. military remains committed to the program,” according to a statement Thursday from the Pentagon’s Joint Program Office, which supports the F-35. The 19 V-22s are part of a multiyear, $6.5 billion contract for 99 tilt-rotor aircraft signed last year. The contract is with the Naval Air Systems Command and includes a provision to produce 23 additional aircraft.This week, Israel formally requested approval for the purchase of six V-22s, which would mark the first foreign sale of the tilt-rotor aircraft, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel disclosed the planned sale to Israel last year during a visit to Tel Aviv. Budgets for the Defense Department have been threatened by sequestration cuts, and tighter spending has been expected. But the F-35, the costliest jet fighter program in U.S. history, has stayed off the chopping block, as has the V-22.Last year marked a turning point for the F-35 program, according to industry analysts and others. In June, several Pentagon officials voiced support for the program, saying they were “cautiously optimistic” about production efforts. In December, the company celebrated the 100th fighter to roll off the line.Joe DellaVedova, Pentagon spokesman for the F-35 program, said in October that the cost of each jet is dropping, from $133 million last year to a projected $112 million in 2015. Full production is expected by 2018.Despite cuts to military budgets, “we foresee little impact on the overall program,” Pentagon officials said Thursday. “Total Department of Defense procurement numbers remain unchanged.”The V-22, produced by Bell Helicopter and Boeing, has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan to ferry freight and soldiers. More than 200 Ospreys are in operation, Bell officials said, and the company is producing about 30 a year under a contract with the government that ends in 2015.The aircraft are assembled in Amarillo, and many parts are made in the Fort Worth area. This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard