Lorraine Martin, executive vice president and F-35 general manager,
said 2013 has been a transformative year for the $392 billion
program, marking the beginning of pilot and maintainer training,
reductions in production costs, and progress on software, weapons
testing and other technical issues.
She said the program — the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program — remained intensely focused on finishing development and flight
testing of the next-generation fighter over the next three years, as
well as driving down the cost of building and operating the planes.
"The program is on stronger footing than ever before," Martin told
2,000 workers and guests at a ceremony celebrating completion of the
100th F-35 at the company's mile-long plant in Fort Worth that
included patriotic songs and videos.
The Fort Worth area was shut down by a crippling ice storm late last
week causing delays of flight testing by Lockheed which is required
before the company can turn the jets over to the government.
Delivering the 36 jets in 2013 is important for Lockheed which is
trying to improve its performance on a program that is years behind
schedule and 70 percent over initial cost projections.
She told reporters that 2014 would be another key year for the
program, with the Navy's C-model due to carry out sea trials on an
aircraft carrier next summer, the first jet to be completed at a new
assembly plant in Italy, and the first jet for Australia to be
Lockheed is building three models of the radar-evading fighter for
the U.S. military and eight countries that helped fund its
development: Britain, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Norway, Italy,
Denmark and the Netherlands. Japan and Israel have also ordered the
plane, and South Korea has signaled its plan to buy at least 40
F-35s as well.
Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the Pentagon's F-35
program manager, told a defense conference last week that the
program had a "tragic past," but the cost of the plane was coming
down, flight testing was continuing, and most technical issues had
with F-35 program chief.)
The last batch of F-35 A-models cost around $107 million, including
the engines, but Martin said the company expected to beat that cost
in the eighth production contract to be negotiated early next year.
By the time the new stealth fighter reaches full-rate production in
2019, she said it would cost around $75 million in current year
dollars, or less, putting it on par with the cost of current
fourth-generation fighter jets.
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Boeing Co <BA.N> says its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet costs about $51
million, including engines and radar, but congressional aides say
the price is closer to $70 million when sensors, targeting pods and
other equipment that is standard on the F-35 is included.
Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Aeronautics,
said Lockheed was aiming to deliver 38 aircraft next year, an
increase of two from this year, and hoped to start ramping up
production to help drive down costs.
"The need to ramp is key to being able to keep taking cost out of
the airplane," Carvalho told reporters after the ceremony. He said
the company was looking at every option for continuing to lower the
cost of the aircraft.
He said Lockheed was meeting revised cost, schedule and delivery
targets mapped out during a big restructuring in 2010, and had about
three years to go until development was done.
"Like any smart athletic sports coach, we're not going to declare
victory until the game's over and we're done," he said.
"With any program like this, you always have to be worried about an
unknown that may come out of nowhere. We're never going to sit here
and say we're out of the woods," he said, "What we're going to do is
stay focused on the fundamentals, day in and day out, and just keep
finishing the development."
Air Force General Robin Rand, commander of the Air Education and
Training Command, told the ceremony that he was looking forward to
the start of training at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, where the
100th jet will be delivered next year.
Lockheed is due to deliver 17 airplanes to the base by the end of
2014, and officials expect to start the first training course there
for U.S. and allied pilots in May 2015.
Rand said the F-35 would be "the most lethal and advanced fighter
airplane on the planet," and he wished he was 20 years younger so he
could fly it.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing
by Jeffrey Benkoe and Diane Craft)
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