Asia Defense | Security

US Orders 78 New F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters

Lockheed Martin was awarded $4.7 billion to build 78 new F-35 fifth-generation combat aircraft.

Franz-Stefan Gady
US Orders 78 New F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters
Credit: F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office via Twitter

Lockheed Martin was awarded a $4.7 billion contract modification for 78 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, according to a March 31 contract announcement by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

The contract includes 48 conventional takeoff and landing F-35As for the US Air Force, 14 short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs for the Marine Corps, and 16 carrier-borne F-35C stealth fighters.

Work is expected to be complete by March 2023, according to the DoD statement.

In a separate contract last month, Lockheed Martin was also awarded a $202 million deal to “develop, sustain and produce software builds as well as carryout developmental flight tests in support of the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.”

Lockheed Martin handed over 134 F-35s in 2019, 91 aircraft in 2018, and 66 in 2017. Last year, 81 F-35s were delivered to the U.S. armed forces, 30 to international partner nations, and 23 to Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers. This included 102 F-35As, 25 F-35Bs, and seven F-35Cs.

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The 500th production-standard F-35 was delivered by Lockheed Martin and the Joint Program Office (JPO) in March of this year.

The F-35 test flight program in the United States has been temporarily shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Production of the aircraft itself, however, has reportedly not been affected. The health crisis did affect F-35 production assembly facilities in Italy and Japan. The plants had to temporarily shut down in early March but reopened later that month.

In the case of Japan, the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Nagoya will assemble a total of 38 F-35As. As I noted previously:

Japan selected the F-35A as its next-generation fighter aircraft in December 2011 and placed an initial order for 42 jets. In December 2018, the Japanese government ordered an additional 63 F-35As, the aircraft’s conventional take-off and landing variant, and 42 F-35Bs, the U.S. Marine Corps’ short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the aircraft.

Other air forces in Asia meanwhile are also busy building up their F-35 fleets.

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) declared initial operating capability (IOC) for its first batch of F-35As in December 2019. “South Korea and the United States concluded an agreement for 40 F-35As under the U.S. Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program in 2014,” I reported elsewhere. “All 40 aircraft are expected to be delivered to the ROKAF by 2022 under the so-called F-X3 program.”

Furthermore, the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAFs) fleet of 72 F-35As is expected to reach full operating capability (FOC) by 2023 with initial operating capability (IOC) set for December 2020. The RAAF took delivery of is first two F-35As in December 2018 with a total of 33 fighter aircraft expected to be delivered to the service by the end of this year.