F-35 Formation Flight 'Touch and Go'. Photo: Lockheed Martin

The US Department of Defense awarded Lockheed Martin four billion US$ for the procurement of 30 F-35s as part of the fifth F-35 Low Rate Initial Production batch. The Air Force will get 21 F-35As for US$2.644 billion ($126 million per aircraft), the Navy will pay $937 million to receive six F-35Cs (over $156 million per aircraft) and the Marine Corps will shelve 426 million to get 3 Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35Bs at a cost of $142 million per aircraft.

The original LRIP V plan was for 47 aircraft but the Australians have pushed back their orders, with the Pentagon reducing the lot to 35 aircraft back in April 2011. The current level of 30 aircraft reflects a further of five aircraft, saving over $770 million to pay for cost overruns incurred through program delays and design changes. For the first time in the program, LRIP V represents a slow down in the F-35 production plan, compared to LRIP IV which included 32 aircraft.

According to Stephen Trimble at Flight Global the next LRIP-VI order, scheduled for award in few months, will also be slashed by more than half from the 80 aircraft originally planned only two years ago, to 38 aircraft.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today the F-35 may have to be stretched out. Apart from escalating costs pressure on the F-35 is also coming from Europe’s financial troubles that might undercut those partners on the eastern side of the Atlantic. The Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, said his service would do everything it can to protect the F-35, the Long Range Strike bomber and the KC-46 tanker program. “There are three programs which we will sustain, and that is the F-35 at an appropriate level, the new bomber will certainly begin development, and then we will bring the tanker on,” Schwartz said. (Navy Times)

F-35 test aircraft at Edwards AFB
All six F-35s currently at Edwards AFB, Calif. for flight test: AF-1, AF-2, AF-3, AF-4, AF-6 and AF-7 Photo: Lockheed Martin
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