F-35 review results imminent, says Lockheed Martin

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Lockheed Martin expects to learn the outcome of a recent review into its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme around mid-December, as it also starts adjusting to a major shift announced by its main international partner, the UK.

The US Defense Acquisition Board met in late November to discuss potential cost and schedule overruns on the F-35, believed to have been outlined during a technical baseline review. With the outcome of their recommendations to be included in the next fiscal year budget, it had been thought that details would not emerge until early next year.

"The budget is going to lock down in the next couple of weeks, and my sense is that we are going to get strong support out of the Department of Defense," says Tom Burbage, Lockheed's executive vice-president F-35 programmes. "I don't expect to hear anything as dramatic as a variant change," he adds, referring to suggestions that the short take-off and vertical landing B-model could be cancelled.

Meanwhile, Burbage is confident that problems now facing the programme will soon be overcome. "The issues will all be non-issues within a year," he says. "If the team we have assembled can't solve them then they can't be solved."

Separately, Burbage says Lockheed was relieved at the outcome of the UK's recent Strategic Defence and Security Review, even though it included a "somewhat unexpected" change from the STOVL F-35B to the larger F-35C carrier variant (below). "We were thankful to see that with the budget process being as tough as it was that the programme came through," he says.

 
© Lockheed Martin

The UK is expected to sign its first production order for the F-35 around mid-2012, with Burbage saying this should be for an initial batch of seven aircraft. A contract for another nine would then be due in 2014; the year before the UK's next planned defence review. Only after this has taken place does the company expect to learn about the UK's total planned buy for the JSF, which stands at a projected 138 aircraft.

Meanwhile, Burbage reveals that the UK has requested if its order for a third F-35B to support joint initial operational test and evaluation activities could be switched to an F-35C. Lockheed is investigating options in a bid to assist its customer, but Burbage notes that long-lead items for the STOVL aircraft - including its Rolls-Royce Liftfan propulsion system - were ordered around 18 months ago.