Awaits signature: Lockheed to produce 125 F-35 aircraft a year

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin will produce an average of 125 F-35 stealth aircraft after reaching a handshake deal with the F-35 Joint Program Office [JPO] for the execution of three Lots: 15, 16, and 17. The agreement is expected to be signed, but JPO has already announced the agreement with Lockheed Martin in a dedicated press release, without mentioning prices, nor schedules, and distribution of production by country.

Lockheed is designing a special F-35 for an unnamed customer
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Negotiations between the JPO and Lockheed lasted more than 10 months. Lockheed is expected to contract the production of at least 156 aircraft per year. Unstable inflation and labor costs, which sharply changed their indicators after the fall of 2021, were at the heart of the protracted negotiations. Experts and business analysts predicted last November that the deal would be finalized, but it never happened.

There are doubts that Lockheed Martin will be able to produce 125 aircraft per year. Still, Pentagon acquisition and sustainment chief William A. LaPlante said this “handshake deal” is a cornerstone, both for the program itself and for its partners.

Lockheed Martin hopes that the three lots [15, 16, and 17] agreed will put an end to unit pricing for the F-35 stealth fighters. The reasons: the three lots include more powerful aircraft, and the US has reduced its annual F-35 purchases, but they are expected to increase when Lockheed Martin offers the Pentagon Block 4 of the aircraft.

Despite the agreement reached, the JPO suggests that at some point in the year Lockheed could produce more than 125 aircraft, because it is not known how desires in partner countries to acquire more fighters will change, or if new customers will not emerge that the U.S. once approved, also acquire the F-35. For example, such a client could be Greece, as BulgarianMilitary.com wrote earlier.

Future F-35's AIM-132 Block 6 missile has new British-built seeker
Photo: MBDA UK

Still, despite the lower year-on-year production volume, there is some good news: the unit cost of one fighter has been agreed upon and is below record inflationary trends. Also under contract are updated and upgraded hardware that will power Block 4. The company also says it has significantly increased its aircraft’s performance, which “will ensure the F-35 remains the most capable aircraft in the world in production today.”

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