Legislators on the fiscal 2023 House-Senate defense appropriations conference said that the budgeted amount for Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 fighters in Lots 15-17 was significantly short of the mark and added more than $1.8 billion to ensure that the 230 F-35s planned for the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy in those lots does not fall by 19.

“Due to multiple factors, the cost of this contract exceeds available and requested funds by $1,825,600,000 once all relevant factors are considered, putting 19 aircraft at risk of being lost,” per the appropriations language. “Through a combination of congressional increases and excess funds transferred from elsewhere within the JSF [Joint Strike Fighter] program, the agreement provides resources to cover this shortfall. allowing for the restoration of all 19 at-risk aircraft, including one F-35A, one F-358, and seven F-35C aircraft in fiscal year 2023 and prior years.”

Defense Daily will add any details from the House Appropriations Committee and/or the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) on the “multiple factors,” cited in the appropriators’ language.

This summer, Lockheed Martin received a more than $7.6 billion DoD contract for 129 F-35 fighters in Lot 15–49 F-35As for the U.S. Air Force; three F-35Bs and 10 F-35Cs for the U.S. Marine Corps; 15 F-35Cs for the U.S. Navy; 32 F-35As and four F-35Bs for non-DoD “participants”; and 16 F-35As for Foreign Military Sales customers (Defense Daily, Aug. 12).

Work is expected to finish on Lot 15 in October 2024.

On July 18, the F-35 JPO and Lockheed Martin entered into a “handshake agreement” for up to 375 F-35s in Lots 15 to 17 (Defense Daily, July 19). The Pentagon has said that the “handshake agreement” reflected effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, associated supply chain and workforce disruptions, and inflation.

“While the handshake agreement is on a basis of 375 aircraft, the final aircraft quantity may change based on any adjustments made by the U.S. Congress in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget and any orders requested by international partners,” DoD said this summer.

Lockheed Martin could receive $30 billion or more for the Lot 15-17 buy.

The F-35 program has been gearing up for first flights of an F-35 equipped with Technology Refresh 3 (TR-3) and the Raytheon Technologies [RTX] Next Generation Electro-Optical Distributed Aperture System (Defense Daily, Sept. 20).

Powered by the L3Harris [LHX] integrated core processor, TR-3 is the computer backbone for Block 4, which is to have 88 unique features and to integrate 16 new weapons on the F-35.

Congressional appropriators noted their concern with TR-3 and Block 4 in the fiscal 2023 language.

Legislators said that the “development and test activities on the critical path for the Block 4 and TR-3 capability upgrades continue to experience repeated delays and are jeopardizing the current timeline for planned integration into Lot 15 aircraft.”

“The agreement therefore directs the [F-35] PEO [Program Executive Officer], F-35 JPO to submit a report to the congressional defense committees providing an updated assessment of the Block 4 and TR-3 development programs, to include an assessment of the critical paths to lot 15 integration and retrofit installation, not later than 30 days after the enactment of this act and written notification following each subsequent breach in timeline for those activities identified along the critical path,” per the conference language.