The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s price is set to fall considerably once the jet goes into full production—so says the military head of the F-35 program. Meanwhile, however, the Pentagon has stopped accepting new jets over a disagreement about who pays for costly repairs to fix problems that went undetected during the manufacturing process.
First, the good news about the F-35's cost. According to Vice Admiral Mat Winter, director of the F-35 program, all three versions of the F-35 will drop below the $100 million mark once the plane goes into full rate production.
Currently, the F-35 is in what the Pentagon calls Low Rate Initial Production, or LRIP. Jets purchased in 2016 belong to LRIP 16 and are being manufactured as we speak. The Air Force F-35A version costs $94.3 million, the Navy F-35C costs $121.2 million, and the Marine Corps F-35B costs $122.4 million apiece.
According to , Winter said at a Navy industry event that the prices will fall under the $100 million mark with Lots 14 and 15, which will be ordered in 2020 and 2021 and delivered in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Production is set to increase from an average of 7 to 9 jets per month to 12 to 15. That’s enough to fit out more than twelve U.S. and allied air force squadrons a year.
The key factor behind the price drop: moving from Low Rate Initial Production to regular production. Once that happens, the manufacturer (in this case Lockheed Martin) can take advantage of economies of scale, receiving better deals for larger quantities of parts and labor. The purchasers (the Department of Defense and foreign governments) can place larger orders knowing they’ll get more for their money.
The transition from LRIP to regular production, however, could be held up by how well the F-35 does in its Pentagon-mandated initial operation test and evaluation period, when the jet is put through its paces in a set of rigorous tests. The tests are .
Speaking of serious problems that rear their ugly heads, let’s talk about the bad news. The Pentagon and two unnamed countries have stopped accepting F-35s in an argument about whether buyers or Lockheed Martin will pay for a costly fix to the jet.
The problem: During maintenance at Hill Air Force Base, maintainers discovered an unacceptable amount of corrosion where an exterior carbon fiber panel fastened to the F-35 airframe. Lockheed Martin workers had an anti-corrosion primer to aluminum fasteners to prevent corrosion. , LockMart had failed to apply the primer to parts in more than 200 jets.
That sounds like a pretty open and shut case of contractor liability, but government inspectors were supposed to catch the problem, complicating things. Although fix was devised it is expensive and involves fi F-35s now located around the world. The F-35 program and Lockheed Martin are now arguing over who will pay for it.