A few minutes after a Royal Air Force pilot flew an F-35B Lightning II several hundred feet over the Farnborough air show – in close formation with a Eurofighter Typhoon – Lockheed Martin said in a press conference that the aircraft’s availability rate is rising, while sustainability costs are projected to fall.

Greg Ulmer, vice-president and general manager for the F-35 programme, was keen to point out that his company believes it can reduce the industry component of the F-35's operation and sustainment costs by 38% over the next 10 years.

"We are on trajectory to match what it costs to operate a fourth-generation aircraft," he said. "We have been spending the last 24 months, in particular, very focused on the operational cost for the aircraft."

An internal analysis by the US Air Force reportedly said in March 2018 that if the service does not reduce overall operating and support costs by as much as 38% over a decade, it would have to reduce its purchases of the F-35 from Lockheed Martin by one-third. Such a measure would eliminate 590 of the stealth fighters from the 1,763 the USAF planned to order.

Ulmer says the company is also improving the F-35's availability rate by analysing the causes of part failures and improving its diagnostic system, the Autonomic Logistics Information System, through incremental, quicker updates.

"[For] the recent LRIP deliveries, the aircraft is performing above the requirement. From an LRIP 8, 9, and 10 perspective, the units are seeing somewhere on the order of 60% aircraft availability," says Ulmer. "There are some units actually seeing greater that 70%."

The company is also finding increased reliability in the aircraft's components by seeking new suppliers. For example, future production of the fighter's AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System, which is currently manufactured by Northrop Grumman, was handed over to Raytheon in June.

"The DAS we did select is about two times more capable and three times more reliable than the current DAS," says Ulmer.

Get all the coverage from the Farnborough air show on our dedicated event page

Source: Flight Daily News