F-35 Program Chief Seeks Faster Cost Cuts

The head of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s joint program office (JPO) says he is not satisfied with the pace at which the jet’s price is falling.

Navy Vice Adm. Mat Winter told reporters Feb. 28 that the cost needs to decline more quickly to keep the aircraft affordable, especially with the number of operational jets expected to jump from 280 today to 800-plus by the end of 2021. 

Hill Air Force Base F-35As fly in formation over the Utah Test and Training Range, March 30, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)

Hill Air Force Base F-35As fly in formation over the Utah Test and Training Range, March 30, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)

“The price is coming down; it’s not coming down fast enough,” Winter said.

Winter expressed hope that an F-35 “deep dive” review that the Department of Defense is conducting with industry will help him better understand what it costs to build the jet and how those costs can be reduced further.

“We don’t know to the level of granularity that I want to know what it actually costs to produce this aircraft,” he said.

The deep dive is collecting data from the program’s top 100 suppliers, which account for about 85 percent of the aircraft’s cost. Lockheed Martin [LMT] is the prime contractor.

“With that data, then together Lockheed Martin and the JPO will have truth data to be able to understand better what it really costs,” Winter said. “And then we can work together to have a mutual understanding of what a realistic glide path is so that we can continue to move forward.”

The program is already on track to reach a per-aircraft cost of $80 million for the F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing variant in Lot 14, down from $94.3 million in Lot 10, which is currently in production. A DoD official indicated in October that the deep dive would take about a year (Defense Daily, Oct. 23, 2017).

Winter also said that negotiations with Lockheed Martin on the next F-35 production batch, Lot 11, are progressing but would proceed more quickly if the company took a more collaborative approach.

“They could be much more cooperative, more collaborative, and we could seal this deal faster,” he asserted. “They choose not to, and that’s a negotiating tactic.”

Asked to respond, Lockheed Martin said in a statement that “we have been partnering with the JPO to reach the best possible deal for the warfighter, taxpayer and industry and look forward to reaching a final agreement.”





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