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F-35 Under the Knife: Pentagon Making ‘Very Intense Effort’ to Cut Costs

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Pentagon pricing chief Shay Assad said this week there is a “very intense effort” underway to explore avenues for trimming costs in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, already projected to run at least $1.5 trillion.

In June, a new report was released showing that acquisition costs alone for the plane, just a fraction of the mammoth spending equation, had jumped from an estimated $379 billion to $406 billion. Costs related to operating the aircraft and sustaining them are expected to tally about $1.1 trillion.

In this Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, file photo, an F-35 jet arrives at its new operational base at Hill Air Force Base, in northern Utah. - Sputnik International
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The new review will explore ways to cut expenses related to the program’s supply chain, Defense News reports.

“Lockheed is familiar with this process because we’ve done it before with them, so this isn’t something new,” Assad said, noting that “many of the things we’re talking about are just practices that have occurred in the past, this will just be much more rigorous.”

The study, which will take about a year to finish, will eventually be sent to high-level contractors, who are expected to relay the changes to the program’s subcontracting base. Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman form some of the program’s main contractors, while smaller firms like Pratt & Whitney make engines and other components for the F-35.

“We believe there is opportunity in the entire chain [to lower costs], from Lockheed Martin to Northrop to BAE to their subcontractors” the pricing official said. “We want to work with the companies collaboratively to get on that path for improvement.”

People wander around a life-size model of US planemaker Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II 5th generation fighter plane during the Farnborough aerospace show, in Farnborough, England - Sputnik International
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Pratt & Whitney was found culpable for more than $43 million in cost overruns earlier this year. The company’s logistics team was “unable to negotiate lower pricing from the supply chain,” the F-35 program office said. Further, Pratt & Whitney hasn’t delivered up to $51 million worth of jet engines it was contracted to complete, and some of the engines that were delivered have been of inferior quality, the program office noted.

Senator John McCain blasted the F-35 as “both a scandal and a tragedy in regards to both cost and performance” last spring.

Assad has not specified how much savings the government hopes to realize with the new review, only noting that the F-35A could be purchased for less than $80 million per unit by 2020. The most recent block of F-35As ran $94 million each. 

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