Lockheed Martin believes that worldwide sales of the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter could reach 4,600 units, a 15% increase from its previous projection.
The company said as recently as 24 May that it projected the F-35 to have a lifetime sales potential of 4,000 aircraft. The current programme of record for the F-35 is around 3,200 examples; though that count includes planned purchases as well as signed orders.
Ultimately, interest in the combat aircraft, including potential orders from Middle Eastern countries, could boost the programme’s total lifetime sales, said Marillyn Hewson, chief executive of Lockheed Martin, at an investors conference on 29 May.
Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II
“There is a desire in the Middle East [for the F-35],” she says. “At some point, I think the US government will look at technology release to the Middle East, much like they have F-15s and F-16s today.”
Hewson says that the company sees the F-35 having about the same sales potential of the F-16, which has sold about 4,600 units. She adds that countries operating the F-16 could be considered likely future customers of the F-35.
“Some countries see it as their stepping stone to the F-35,” she says.
Lockheed Martin moved its F-16 production line to Greenville, South Carolina in April 2019 from a facility in Fort Worth, Texas where the company needed more room to produce larger quantities of the F-35. The aircraft manufacturer currently has an order from Bahrain for 16 examples of the F-16. It is also fielding interest from Slovakia, and Bulgaria. Lockheed Martin is also pitching India on a variant of the fighter called the F-21.