US DoD selects F-35 design for next generation multirole fighter with contract worth $19 billion

Lockheed Martin's selection on Friday to develop the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has reinforced its position as the world's leading defence contractor. USAir Force secretary James Roche said the Lockheed Martin/Northrop Grumman/BAE Systems proposal "clearly had more strengths and less weaknesses" than the Boeing bid.

Lockheed Martin will be awarded a $19 billion contract for the 126-month JSF system development and demonstration (SDD) phase. The US Department of Defense (DoD) will not force Lockheed Martin to share work with Boeing, "but we will not discourage them", said under secretary of defence Pete Aldridge. Roche said the DoD will oppose any Congressional action to transfer work to Boeing, which says it is ready to participate "if Lockheed Martin chooses".

Pratt & Whitney will develop the JSF's F135 engine under a $4 billion contract, with Rolls-Royce supplying the lift system, including shaft-driven lift fan, for the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant. General Electric is already under contract to develop an alternative engine to become available later. Northrop Grumman will supply the F-35's avionics, but Aldridge says the DoD will work with Lockheed Martin on the question of establishing loser Raytheon as an alternative supplier.

Aldridge said the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) gave approval to enter the SDD phase on 24 October after evaluating the "technology maturity, funding profiles and unit cost estimates". The DAB "concluded JSF is ready to enter the next phase", he said. The usaf conventional take-off and landing variant will cost $40 million, while US Navy aircraft carrier (CV) and US Marine STOVL versions will cost "less than $50 million".

Although Aldridge stressed the decision to proceed with SDD does not mean JSF production has been approved, the customer services are keen to get aircraft as soon as possible.

Production deliveries, due to start in 2008, will "migrate the USA to an all-stealth force by 2025", says Aldridge. The UK, which will take 150 of the planned 3,002 aircraft, will decide next year between the CV and STOVL variants, having been unable to make a decision until the JSF winner was known.

Source: Flight International