11:33 GMT +315 November 2019
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    F-35 Lightning aircraft from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., prepare for takeoff at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Oct. 12, 2018. The aircraft evacuated to Barksdale to avoid possible damage from Hurricane Michael.

    Pentagon Inks Contract For 478 More F-35s at Cheapest Prices Yet

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    The Pentagon signed a $34 billion agreement with planemaker Lockheed Martin on Tuesday to procure 478 more F-35 Lightning II stealth aircraft for both the US and foreign militaries. An infamously expensive program, some of the F-35s will be bought at the cheapest prices yet reached, passing below $80 million per unit for the first time.

    The deal will cover three deliveries of Low Rate Initial Production batches, called lots 12, 13 and 14, each batch cheaper than the last, and including all three varieties of the stealthy strike jet. At a Tuesday Pentagon press briefing, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen M. Lord said the average price drop would be 12.7%.

    "We will reach a unit-recurring flyaway-cost-per-aircraft target of $80 million for a US Air Force F-35A price by Lot 13, which is one lot earlier than planned, a significant milestone for the department," Lord said. However, prices for the B and C variants remain higher: while the third batch of F-35As is expected to cost $77.9 million each, the F-35Bs in Lot 14 will cost $101.3 million each, with the F-35Cs costing $94.4 million each, according to Lockheed figures cited by Defense News.

    Of the planes, 291 will be for the US service branches, and 127 will go to international partners who’ve contributed to the F-35 program, with the final 60 being set aside for foreign military sale customers.

    That’s a big number, considering Lockheed only delivered the 400th F-35 in June.

    The F-35A, which flies from standard airfields, is the Air Force variant and also the primary export model, used by countries including Japan, the Netherlands and Norway. The others are more specialized: the F-35B, in use by the US Marine Corps and a handful of countries like the UK, has a rotating thrust nozzle to facilitate short or vertical takeoffs and landings. The F-35C is only used by the US Navy and has larger wings, a tailhook and a reinforced undercarriage to help the plane survive catapult launches and arrested landings on aircraft carriers.

    The price tag makes the F-35, once judged at $150 million per aircraft, more competitive with existing mainstays like the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, which has an off-the-shelf price of $70.5 million.

    The program’s lifetime cost has been estimated at $1.5 trillion, running from 2011 until 2077. In an August letter to US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, US Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) blasted the “significant mismanagement and poor oversight of the F-35 program on the part of DOD [Department of Defense].”

    "Since its inception, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has been plagued by technical issues, delays and exorbitant costs," Grassley said. “So long as these issues remain, DOD will continue hemorrhaging money on the F-35 program.”

    The Pentagon’s present plan is to buy 2,663 F-35s of all varieties, 1,763 of which will be the F-35A.

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    Tags:
    lower price, contract, Lockheed Martin, F-35
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