The U.S. Defense Department office that oversees development of the F-35 Lightning II combat jet has awarded project leader Lockheed Martin a $1.9 billion contract to support and sustain the expanding global F-35 fleet through 2020.
The contract — which is awarded annually but varies in value — finances a range of improvements to Lockheed Martin’s repair and maintenance network, according to company officials. This year, it will pay for advanced engineering work, fleetwide data analytics, pilot and maintainer training, supply chain management resources, and the services of industry sustainment experts at air bases and depots.
“The F-35 continues to deliver exceptional capabilities to the field, and this contract ensures F-35s are mission ready to meet warfighter needs,” said Greg Ulmer, the Lockheed Martin vice president who serves as general manager of the F-35 program. “The joint government and industry team continues to make significant progress improving readiness rates and reducing sustainment costs… We are confident F-35 sustainment costs will be equal to or less than legacy jets.”
A chunk of the new funding will likely flow to Lockheed’s large network of subcontractors, including East Hartford-based Pratt & Whitney, which builds the F135 propulsion system used in the F-35 and services those engines at facilities around the world.
A lack of readily available spare engine parts has at times kept a sizeable portion of the global F-35 fleet grounded.
Under pressure from the federal government and its international partners to boost deliveries and reign in costs, Lockheed Martin in recent months has hired hundreds of engineers and technicians and stepped up production at its sprawling F-35 assembly plant in Fort Worth, Texas. The facility is now churning out planes at the rate of one every three days, at a cost of around $85 million per unit, down from a one-time high of $95 to $100 million.
Lockheed announced this month that it exceeded its annual production quota of F-35s for the third time in 2019. The company had promised the Joint Strike Fighter program 131 aircraft for the year and ultimately delivered 134.
That figure represents a 47 percent increase in output from 2018 and a nearly 200 percent increase from 2016, when the project was lagging seriously behind schedule.
According to Lockheed Martin, more than 490 F-35s have been delivered to the U.S. military and partner nations since 2006. The aircraft is now operating from 21 bases around the globe.
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