Lockheed Martin and its corporate partners have always stood solidly behind their next-generation aircraft, the F-35 Joint Strike fighter.
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But the companies also know cost is an issue, not just for the U.S. military but for other potential customer nations and their armed forces.
Now Lockheed, Northrop Grumman and BAE systems are putting big money — $170 million over the next three years — behind their product and a “Blueprint for Affordability.”
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The effort is aimed at trimming the cost of the F-35 from the current more than $100 million per plane to around $80 million each by the end of the decade.
Final assembly of the F-35 takes place Lockheed’s complex in west Fort Worth, where 6,000 people work directly on the program. The plant’s total workforce includes about 13,300 employees.
The F-35 is a single-seat, single-engine stealth aircraft that comes in three versions — a “conventional” fighter, a short takeoff/vertical landing variant and a model built for the stresses and storage requirements of aircraft carriers — all assembled simultaneously on the floor of the mile-long Fort Worth plant.
The plant started producing F-35s in 2006 and by April of this year had delivered 101 aircraft to the Department of Defense. Program plans currently call for production of more than 2,400 planes for the U.S. military and more than 600 for allied nations.
Lorraine Martin is the Lockheed executive vice president in charge of the F-35 program. She told Star-Telegram writers Steve Kaskovich and Yamil Berard the affordability initiative includes “unprecedented measures.”
“We have total faith in the F-35 to support the U.S. and our allies’ future defense needs,” she said.
But executives from Lockheed and its partners clearly feel the cost pressures. The F-35 often is referred to as the costliest U.S. weapons system ever built.
“Our industry team knows what is at stake, given the current budgetary and global security demands, to reach these cost milestones,” Martin said.
By 2019, said Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the Pentagon’s F-35 program manager, the F-35 is expected to be “equal in cost to any other fighter on the market, but with far more advanced capability.”