WASHINGTON Feb 11 Britain is still expected to
order 14 F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp
although the $5 billion deal may not be finalized until next
month, several sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
The UK deal, which includes fuel, hangars, training and
operational support for the jets, was initially expected this
week but British authorities put off the announcement to avoid
overlapping with the release of a major assessment of weapons
systems by Britain's National Audit Office, the sources said.
A spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defense said the
agency expected "an announcement relating to future investment"
in the F-35 program soon. "It is not appropriate to comment on
speculation while negotiations are ongoing," he said.
The United States is counting on orders from Britain and
other countries that helped pay for development of the new F-35
Joint Strike Fighter to offset a series of delays in U.S. orders
caused by mounting pressure on military spending.
The U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps had been slated to
order a total of 42 jets in fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, up
from 29 in fiscal 2014. But mandatory budget cuts will force the
Pentagon to scale back those orders once again, according to the
Several sources said they expected the fiscal 2015 budget
request to call for three to six fewer F-35s than expected.
The Pentagon's top arms buyer Frank Kendall told reporters
at the Singapore air show earlier Tuesday that tighter budgets
would force tough decisions about research and procurement, but
the F-35 fighter and other key arms programs remained a top
"The F-35 remains - despite its relatively high cost - a
premier, number-one priority conventional warfare program for
us, so we're going to continue that under almost any budget
level I would imagine that we would have to live with," he said.
Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Japan and Israel are also
ordering F-35 fighters in fiscal 2015 as part of the ninth batch
of jets to be built. Turkey is expected to order two jets in
U.S. and foreign orders were initially expected to swell the
ninth batch of jets to a new high around 70 planes, but the
number will likely come in closer to 65, said one of the sources
who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The Pentagon's F-35 program office is expected to award
Lockheed a large contract for advanced procurement of titanian
and other long-lead materials needed for those jets later this
month or early next, according to the sources.
Lockheed and the Pentagon are currently in contract
negotiations about the eighth batch of jets, which were funded
by the fiscal 2014 budget.
Canada was initially slated to order 4 F-35s as part of the
ninth production batch, but officials are rethinking the
decision after procurement controversies. Ottawa has also been
talking with the makers of four other fighters, including Boeing
Co and Dassault Aviation.
Canada is wrestling with the need to extend the service life
of the aging fleet of F/A-18A fighters that it bought from
Boeing in the early 1980s.
Ottawa is expected to decide in coming weeks whether to
proceed with an F-35 order or launch a fresh competition.
Australia, faced with the same issues several years ago, had
estimated the total cost of service life extension and upgrade
programs for its F/A-18 A- and B-model planes at over $3.2
billion from 1995 to 2015.
The UK order, when it comes, will include some funding for
Lockheed and the other key contractors on the F-35 program, as
well as work to be done in Britain on building the
infrastructure for the new warplanes.
British Defense Minister Philip Hammond told the BBC on
Tuesday that he was not worried about technical issues on the
F-35, and remained confident the plane would be fitted with the
weapons it needs in time for early operational use in 2020.