The unit price for a fifth-generation Lightning II F-35A stealth fighter jet— the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing variant—has fallen below $90 million for the first time in the F-35 program’s history.
The price reduction is the result of a new $11.5 billion contract for the production and delivery of 141 F-35 aircraft in Low-Rate Initial Production Lot 11 (LRIP 11) concluded by Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) last month following protracted negotiations.
The F-35A unit price now stands at $89.2 million, a 5.4 percent reduction from the $94.3 million in the 10th batch of aircraft, according to a September 28 statement by Lockheed Martin. The more expensive F-35B, the U.S. Marine Corps’ short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of aircraft, and the F-35C, the fighter jet’s carrier-variant, saw an even bigger reduction in unit price.
According to Lockheed Martin, the F-35B unit cost was lowered to $115.5 million, which represents a 5.7 percent reduction from the $122.4 million it cost for the variant in LRIP 10. The F-35C unit cost was lowered to $107.7 million, an 11.1 percent reduction from the $121.2 million it cost for the carrier variant in LRIP 10. Production of LRIP 11 kicked off earlier this year. Deliveries of LRIP 11, which funds 91 aircraft for the U.S. military, 28 for international development partners and 22 foreign military sales customers, are set to begin in 2019.
“Driving down cost is critical to the success of this program,” said Vice Admiral Mat Winter, F-35 Program Executive Officer. “We are delivering on our commitment to get the best price for taxpayers and warfighters. This agreement for the next lot of F-35s represents a fair deal for the U.S. Government, our international partnership and industry. We remain focused on aggressively reducing F-35 cost and delivering best value.”
The F-35A has been in production since 2006. Overall, the U.S. military plans to procure 2,400 aircraft, while U.S. allies have placed orders for 500 aircraft. The F-35 program is considered to be one of the DoDs most expensive weapons programs of all time with estimated total costs exceeding $406 billion as of 2018.
“As production ramps up, and we implement additional cost savings initiatives, we are on track to reduce the cost of the F-35A to $80 million by 2020, which is equal to or less than legacy aircraft, while providing a major leap in capability,” said Greg Ulmer, F-35 Vice President and General Manager. However, this $80 million per unit estimate cited does not include initial development or upgrade costs, the so-called Continuous Capability Development and Delivery program, as Flight Global has pointed out.
Notably, the F-35B has conducted its first close air support strike in Afghanistan on September 27.