By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON Oct 16 Top Pentagon officials will
examine the cost of building and operating the Lockheed Martin
Corp F-35 fighter jet at a major review of the $392
billion program next week that will also provide updates on
lingering technical issues.
Kyra Hawn, spokeswoman for the Pentagon's F-35 program
office, said a high-level Defense Acquisition Board meeting was
expected to proceed on Monday despite the partial government
shutdown. The meeting has already been postponed several times.
She said officials would receive an update on how the
program was meeting cost and schedule targets, as well as
progress on technical challenges including the millions of lines
of software code being written for the planes.
One key issue to be discussed will be whether to increase
F-35 production in coming years, as planned, according to Hawn
and other officials familiar with the program.
Current plans call for Lockheed's production of the F-35 to
triple from the 36 planes ordered in the sixth batch of jets for
delivery in fiscal 2014. By the fiscal 2018, Lockheed is slated
to be delivering around 110 planes a year, according to
Another topic at the meeting will be the long-term cost of
operating and "sustaining" the plane, an issue of great concern
to the U.S. military and the eight partner countries that are
funding its development: Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark,
Norway, Turkey, the Netherlands and Italy.
The Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation
(CAPE)office is expected to present an updated estimate of the
cost over 55 years of operating and maintaining the U.S.
military's future fleet of 2,443 F-35s.
CAPE has maintained its forecast for that cost at around
$1.1 trillion for some time, but Pentagon acquisition chief
Frank Kendall has said he expects the estimate to come down.
The F-35 program office has already lowered its estimate by
20 percent to $857 billion.
The U.S. Marine Corps has also done a detailed analysis that
shows the cost per flying hour of the F-35B model, which can
land like a helicopter, is likely to be 16.6 percent lower than
earlier Pentagon estimates. That reduction would result in
savings of $12.3 billion over the next five decades.
"Sustainment cost will be a large topic of discussion," said
Hawn, noting that it was critical to lower the longer-term costs
of operating the warplanes so they are affordable.
She said the program in November would also be hosting the
first of twice-yearly summits on operating and maintenance
costs, an initiative that grew out of a September meeting of the
F-35's Joint Executive Steering Board.
Details were still being worked out, but the meeting is
aimed at generating ideas for driving down operating and
maintenance costs, Hawn said.
For instance, in September, Britain and Norway said they
would work together more closely to lower costs by pooling
resources for technical maintenance once the new fighter jets
start arriving in Europe in the second half of the decade.
The meeting is expected to include representatives from
Lockheed and other major suppliers for the program: Northrop
Grumman Corp, BAE Systems Plc and Pratt &
Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp, as well the
U.S. military and the eight partner countries.
Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the Pentagon's
F-35 program chief, has said he hopes to inject more competition
into the overall effort of operating and maintaining the planes
once the program completes development around 2018.
Lockheed oversees sustainment of the F-35 under the current
development contract, but the Pentagon is exploring other
options, including dealing directly with component suppliers
that work on maintenance, instead of having Lockheed coordinate
that work, according to one source familiar with the program.
Monday's Pentagon meeting is also expected to touch on last
week's news that extended durability testing of the Marine
Corps' F-35 B-model had resulted in minor cracks in the bulkhead
of the plane.
Hawn said investigators were still trying to determine the
cause of the cracks.