International backing for F-35 hasn’t been stronger, says Lockheed official

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Lockheed Martin is on track to deliver a total of 30 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to three nations during 2012, as company officials wait on the potential impact of a new round of domestic spending cuts threatened by Congress.

"We're still on pace to deliver 30 airplanes this year, which was our goal from the beginning," says Steve O'Bryan, Lockheed's vice-president F-35 programme integration and business development. This represents a more than doubling of the rate on the company's Fort Worth final assembly line in Texas from 13 in 2011, with a further increase to around 35 expected during 2013.

Flight test activities are continuing to run ahead of schedule this year, with total F-35 flights over plan by 20% and test points by 15%. These figures increase to 40% and 20% respectively for the short take-off and vertical landing F-35B, deliveries of which will begin to US Marine Corps squadrons late this year.

 

Lockheed Martin

The F-35B continues to beat its flight test targets for the US Marine Corps and UK

Conventional take-off and landing test aircraft AF-1 on 16 October released the F-35A's first weapon, a JDAM-series GBU-31 908kg (2,000lb) bomb, jettisoned from one of its internal weapons bays. The advance followed the first release of a 454kg GBU-32 weapon by an F-35B in early August, and separation trials involving Raytheon's AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile will be performed before year-end.

Recent test activities with a new tailhook design for the US Navy's carrier variant F-35C have, meanwhile, involved 76 ground and five "fly-in" arrestments at NAS Lakehurst in New Jersey, Lockheed says.

 

Lockheed Martin

Test work with the F-35C has been conducted at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey

BK-2, the UK's second of three F-35B initial operational test and evaluation aircraft, is expected to be flown to Eglin AFB in Florida later this month, following a first example accepted in mid-July. Lockheed is also processing the paperwork to deliver the Netherlands' first system development and demonstration-phase F-35A. The nations will each receive one additional aircraft during 2013.

With Australia, Israel, Japan, Italy, Norway and Turkey already having ordered long-lead production items for their initial F-35s, O'Bryan says: "I have nine countries under contract, of the 11. The international support for the programme hasn't been stronger." Canada and Denmark are expected to commit funds this decade.

Lockheed is, meanwhile, waiting on the outcome of South Korea's F-X III fighter competition between the F-35, Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle and Eurofighter Typhoon before the end of this year, and to hear from security cooperation participant Singapore about its purchase plans.

Referring to the threatened sequestration action from the US Congress, which would delete a further $500 billion from the Department of Defense's funding over the next decade from 2 January, Lockheed says: "With only months remaining until it takes effect, we have no guidance from the US government on how it will be implemented. We don't know which programmes, sites, technologies or suppliers will be impacted."