By: Jon Hemmerdinger Washington DC
Lockheed Martin says it has made notable progress on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme in 2013, and insists the aircraft’s price will be less than earlier-generation fighter aircraft in the coming years.
"We will have an aircraft price in 2019 for a fifth-generation fighter that is less than any fourth-generation fighter in the world," says Lorraine Martin, Lockheed’s executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 programme.
Martin, who was referring to the US Air Force's F-35A version of the jet, says efforts to reduce costs should bring the price of the aircraft down to about $85 million by 2019, including engines and full mission systems. That amount would equal $75 million in today's dollars, she adds.
Martin made her comments to reporters 13 December, the same day the company hosted an event in Fort Worth, Texas, to mark production of the 100th F-35.
At the event, which drew several hundred attendees, Lockheed executives insisted the F-35 programme is back on track.
“The F-35 is real, it is here and it is flying,” Orlando Carvalho, Lockheed’s executive vice president of Aeronautics, tells attendees.
Martin tells reporters F-35s currently cost "under $100 million", and that the price should decline as the US government orders additional aircraft.
“Quantity absolutely matters right now in this programme,” she says. “If [the number of orders] doesn’t increase, that will dampen out our ability to get costs out.”
In 2013 Lockheed submitted a proposal to the US government for an eighth round of “low rate initial production,” and the company expects an agreement by early spring 2014, says Martin.
But even at $85 million, its not clear the F-35 would beat competing fighters on price.
On 9 December, Michael Gibbons, Boeing’s vice president and programme manager of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and E/A-18G Growler, told reporters that Super Hornets currently cost $51-$52 million, including engines and weapons systems.
Although Navy orders for F/A-18s currently run only through the current fiscal year 2014, Boeing says it expects additional orders, and the US Navy has said it is keeping open the option to purchase more of the fighters.
Martin and others say Lockheed has made substantial progress on the F-35 in 2013.
“This [year] has really been about maturing the aircraft... and our ability to stand-up operations in the US,” she tells reporters. “You can really feel the momentum building on every single dimension of the programme.”
For example, the company is “on path” to delivery its target of 36 aircraft in 2013, with 29 aircraft already having been delivered and another four ready to leave the Fort Worth factory, Martin says.
The 100th aircraft will be delivered to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona where US and partner militaries will conduct flight training.
Also in the last year, Lockheed helped train 92 F-35 pilots and 944 aircraft maintainers, and in 2013 the company opened a final assembly and checkout facility —a so-called FACO — at the Cameri air base near Novara, Italy, Martin says.
“The milestones we have set for ourselves over the last three years we are meeting,” she adds.
In 2014, Lockheed says it expects to deliver the first aircraft to partner country Australia. Also next year, the company intends to conduct shipboard testing of the US Navy’s F-35C version of the aircraft and delivery the first F-35B to the US Marine Corps in Beaufort, South Carolina, says Martin.
The Marine Corps expects to reach initial operational capability with 10 to 16 F-35Bs by December 2015 and the Air Force plans to reach IOC with 12 to 24 F-35As by December 2016, according to a US military report to congressional defense committees in June.
The US Navy expects to be the last service to reach IOC, with a target of no later than February 2019 with 10 F-35Cs.http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/lockheed-touts-f-35-progress-predicts-competitive-pricing-394185/