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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter costs less than expected

Lockheed Martin and Pentagon officials said today that a new Defense Department report shows the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is not the runaway budget-buster portrayed by some critics.

The report released late Monday by the Pentagon estimates that the total cost of developing and building 2,443 F-35s for the U.S. military has declined slightly in the last 12 months.

"It shows we've made some progress in controlling the costs," said Maj. Gen. C.R. Davis, the Pentagon officer overseeing the F-35 development effort, in a conference call with news reporters.

The annual report to Congress now estimates the total cost of the F-35 program at $298.9 billion, about $1 billion less than was estimated a year ago.

The latest Pentagon cost estimate is sharply at odds with a recent report by the Government Accountability Office that said various other internal Pentagon offices were expecting higher costs. In the worse case, the GAO said total costs for development and acquisition of the F-35 could top $337 billion.

"We do not agree with that estimate," Davis said. "There is no basis for that estimate. ... There are no numbers that support it."

Davis and Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martine executive vice president for the F-35, said the new Pentagon cost estimates reflect experience gained in production of the first several test airplanes as well as negotiations with Lockheed and other contractors on the first two lots of production airplanes.

Earlier estimates of manufacturing costs were based on experience with other programs, Crowley said. As work continues on the first several test aircraft and workers gain experience, the costs are running below estimates.

Crowley said Lockheed is on track to fly the second F-35 test plane in late May or June, as planned.