The cost of the F-35 fighter jet program, already the most expensive U.S. weapons program ever, is estimated to climb further, according to figures to be submitted to Congress this week.
Total acquisition costs for Lockheed Martin’s next-generation fighter, being built in Fort Worth, are expected to rise about 7 percent to at least $406.5 billion, according to figures in a draft document known as a Selected Acquisition Report. That would mark a reversal after several years in which estimates declined to $379 billion from a previous high of $398.5 billion in early 2014.
F-35 program spokesman Joe DellaVedova didn’t immediately respond to emails and phone calls seeking an explanation for the estimated increase. Typically, the F-35 program office has waited until the report is formally released to lawmakers before responding to queries.
Extending production of the 1,763 Air Force versions could be one source of the $27 billion increase in the new cost estimate. The acquisition report will inform Congress that the Pentagon is adding 13 Marine Corps “B” model short-takeoff-and-vertical landing versions that will increase the total quantity of U.S. jets purchased to 2,456 from the long-standing goal of 2,443.
The increased cost estimate may raise eyebrows in the White House, where President Donald Trump has taken an active role in trying to lower costs for individual F-35 jets. Yet the total program increase cited in the report for Congress doesn’t imply higher costs for future contracts.
Late last year, Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson told then-President-elect Trump that she was personally committed to drive down the cost of the F-35 program. In January, she said the company plans to add 1,800 workers at its Fort Worth plant by the end of this decade to handle increased production of the aircraft. Lockheed employs about 14,000 people in Fort Worth.
Nevertheless, the estimated increase comes after the F-35 struggled for years with cost overruns and schedule delays that infuriated Congress. That prompted a major reorganization of the F-35 program management and development schedule in 2010, under then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that largely stabilized the program.
On Friday, the Pentagon announced that it had awarded Lockheed a $5.58 billion modification to an advance payment on the next production batch of F-35s, known as Lot 11, for 74 jets. The government hopes to have a final contract in place by the end of the year.
This article includes material from Star-Telegram archives.