SINGAPORE 2010: Lockheed may deliver more F-35s than DoD buys

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Although the US Department of Defense has announced slashing four F-35 jets and firing the government's programme manager, Lockheed Martin says it could deliver more aircraft in 2013 than the military pays for to keep unit costs from spiralling upwards.

The DoD may allow Lockheed the "opportunity" to deliver more F-35s than specifically on contract, Lockheed vice-president for business development George Standridge told Flightglobal at the Singapore airshow.

Under this scenario, Lockheed would continue to build aircraft based on prices set in the 2007 selected acquisition report. Meanwhile, the DoD has decided to fund the programme based on higher cost projections set by the second annual review by the Joint Estimating Team. For the same price, Lockheed may be able to deliver more than 43 F-35s.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged that possibility when he announced the budget cuts in a briefing at the Pentagon on 1 February. Gates described the fiscal year 2011 budget request as seeking a "buy of 43 aircraft and possibly more, depending on contractor performance".

Gates also announced that F-35 programme executive officer Brig Gen David Heinz will be replaced by a three-star general. Before his dismissal, Heinz had actually been selected for promotion to major general, so Gates's move elevates the position's standing from two-star rank to three-star rank.

Asked if Lockheed also anticipates a change of leadership, Standridge did not give a direct reply. But he acknowledges that Lockheed accepts that the DoD will hold the company accountable for its performance. For his part, Gates announced that he will withhold $614 million in performance fees from Lockheed. "The taxpayers should not have to bear the entire burden of getting the [F-35] programme back on track," he says.

The procurement cuts increase the pressure on Lockheed to keep reducing unit costs for the F-35, especially as foreign partners are expected to start buying production aircratf within the next two years.

Meanwhile, Lockheed also confirms that Singapore has started receiving classified briefings on the F-35. Singapore and Israel are both Security Cooperation Participants on the Joint Strike Fighter programme.