Fighters “R” Us books a few billions

$7.6 billion in fighter contracts is not bad for a week’s work – and it’s only Wednesday. Over the last few days, Lockheed Martin has received $5 billion to produce 60 F-22s, $2.44 billion to begin work on 12 F-35s and a mere $187 million to start producing 30 more F-16s for Turkey.

Three contracts.

Three fighter programmes.

All Lockheed.

All significant in their own way.

Turkey’s $1.1 billion order for more F-16s is significant in that it is an order for more F-16s, from a country that plans to buy F-35s. Re-orders like this could keep the F-16 in production until the F-35 becomes available for export. And the availability of new F-16s could stop JSF partners defecting if there are more delays to the F-35.

Long-lead funding for 12 JSFs, meanwhile, is important because it includes components for the first six production STOVL F-35Bs, launching the second of three variants. The carrier-based F-35C will be next. But while the jump from two aircraft in production Lot 1 to 12 in Lot 2 seems huge, in reality it simply maintains the one-a-month pace already reached in development, and the JSF programme needs a big hike in rate to stay on track.

Multi-year procurement of the F-22 is perhaps most significant, because it sets up a steady 20-a-year production rate that the US Air Force is certain to want to continue beyond the current three-year horizon. But it comes as Congress makes clear it will not lift its ban on exporting the F-22, ending (for now) any hopes of extending the production run with foreign sales.

And that sets up a potential contest for funding between the F-22 and the F-35 beyond 2011. At 20 a year, it would take another 10 years to get to the USAF’s goal of 381 F-22s – 10 years in which it also needs to buy almost 1,000 F-35s to replace F-16s as they retire.

Choices, choices

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