The agency said Lockheed delivered 134 of the fighter jets in 2019, seven more than its contractual requirement for the year and three more than its annual “commitment” to the Pentagon. The company seeks a full-rate production of the F-35 as a seal of approval from the Defense Department that the $428 billion program has been fully tested, deemed effective against the highest-level threats and can be produced efficiently.
The deliveries of the F-35 have also been met with problems: early deliveries were offset by 17 planes that were delivered late, according to the DCMA. Still, “in spite of rapid growth in quantities, DCMA is not seeing a commensurate growth in late aircraft,” Mark Woodbury, spokesman for the agency said, adding that it’s “encouraged by Lockheed Martin’s continued improvement in the area of aircraft on-time delivery.”
Despite being touted for its advanced capabilities, the plane has also received severe flak from everyone from US defence analysts to President Trump for its staggering $1.5 trillion price tag, and a plethora of glitches and design flaws. The Pentagon’s top tester, Robert Behler, told a House panel in mid-November that the F-35 continues to fall short of full combat-readiness targets and, despite some progress on reliability, all three versions of the fighter are breaking down “more often than planned.” Lockheed Martin has promised to fix these problems, and to make upgrades to the plane in the years to come to provide the plane with sixth-gen systems.
However, despite the incomplete testing, Congress continues to accelerate F-35 purchases, adding 11 to the Pentagon’s request in 2016 and in 2017, 20 in fiscal 2018, 15 last year and 20 this year. So far, 458 jets have been deployed out of about 3,500 planned purchases by the US and its allies, from Australia to Poland.
“The significant increase in on-time deliveries reflects the growing maturity of the entire F-35 enterprise and our focus on continuous improvement,” Lockheed spokeswoman Carolyn Nelson said in an email. “We’ve grown our workforce, increased material availability, and improved performance processes and workflow.”