The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) is hoping to award Lockheed Martin a contract to upgrade 93 early production aircraft to the newest configuration.
"The proposed contract will provide for the Block Upgrade of 93 previously/to-be delivered aircraft, under LRIP [low-rate initial production] 2 through LRIP 5 to Block 2B, 3i and 3F and proposal preparation," reads a contract solicitation. "This notice of intent is not a request for competitive proposals. However, interested parties may submit a capability statement for the purpose of determining whether to initiate a competitive procurement."
US Air Force
Neither Lockheed nor the JPO will comment on how much the deal will be worth. "The value will be announced when the contract is awarded. The FedBiz ops notice was to inform industry of the government's intent to award it sole source," the JPO says.
Lockheed issued a statement that closely mirrors the programme office. "The posting on the Federal Business Opportunities site is a synopsis for future F-35 work, which is required for us to process a Justification & Approval, which a precursor to an RFP [request for proposal] and required for the JPO to process. So at this point, it's too early in the process to provide cost data," the company says.
Analyst Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute says that the cost to retrofit the early production aircraft will be substantial. One of the reasons the US Department of Defense slowed down production of the tri-service fighter was to avoid the cost of retrofitting older jets.
But, Goure says, while continuing production at a higher rate would have incurred costs for retrofitting older aircraft, the DoD could have had a much larger number of F-35s flying now.
"That wouldn't have been the complete Block 3," he says. "But they would be substantial aircraft and better than the [Lockheed] F-16s, for example."