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Lockheed CEO says F-35 nearing “major milestone” this summer

Lockheed Martin delivered its 100th F-35 fighter in December 2013 and expects to build 45 this year.
Lockheed Martin delivered its 100th F-35 fighter in December 2013 and expects to build 45 this year. Star-Telegram

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program is “progressing very well” and is on track to mark a major milestone with the Marines preparing to declare the plane combat-ready, Marillyn Hewson, the company’s chief executive, told an investment conference today.

“The Marines are confident they will declare IOC (initial operating capability) this summer,” Hewson said. Similar declarations are expected from the Air Force in 2016 and Navy in 2018.

Production of the F-35, built by Lockheed Martin in west Fort Worth, is ramping up with 45 planes expected to be delivered this year, up from 36 in 2014, she said. By the time the plane reaches full-rate production by 2019, the company expects its pricetag to drop to $85 million apiece.

The company is working through software issues that have plagued the program, and Pratt & Whitney “got to the root cause” of an engine fire that temporarily grounded the military’s fleet last summer, she said.

“It’s all part of the development process,” Hewson told the Bernstein Strategic Decisions conference. “They (Pratt & Whitney) they know what they’ve got to do and they’re working with joint program office of the government to make sure they’re on that path.”

On the F-16 front, Hewson said Lockheed foresees more foreign sales, with the United Arab Emirates a likely purchaser. And other countries may pursue contracts to upgrade their existing F-16 fleets with advanced radar and other technologies.

Hewson said Lockheed’s F-16 backlog extends into the third quarter of 2017.

Steve Kaskovich, 817-390-7773

Twitter: @stevekasko

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