WASHINGTON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The Pentagon’s decision to delay buying 124 Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) F-35 fighters until after fiscal year 2016 saved $6.9 billion over the coming five years, a Defense Department spokesman said on Tuesday.
On Jan. 6, Defense Secretary Robert Gates overhauled the Pentagon’s largest weapons program for the second time in a year, slowing a planned ramp-up in production and adding $4.6 billion to the program’s development phase.
At the time, Gates said the move would result in net savings of about $4 billion over the next five years -- after subtracting the money needed to buy 41 additional Boeing Co (BA.N) F/A-18 warplanes to offset slower F-35 production.
The Pentagon’s biggest arms program, the new fighter is being developed with eight international partner countries at a total cost of $382 billion, but the program has run into schedule delays and massive cost overruns in recent years.
Joe DellaVedova, the Pentagon’s F-35 spokesman, provided additional details, including the $6.9 billion savings figure on Tuesday.
He said the $4.6 billion added to the development phase would be used to improve the propulsion system of the Marine Corps variant of the F-35, including the lift fan that gives it short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) capability.
The system of doors used to operate the propulsion lift system would also likely need a redesign to improve its durability, he said.
He said some of the money would also be used for training and to upgrade the pilot-vehicle interface.
Some money had also been set aside to address “unknown items that may be discovered in developmental flight test,” DellaVedova said in an emailed statement answering questions.
He said those estimates would be refined as part of an integrated baseline review to be conducted this fall.
The Pentagon estimated earlier this month that it would cost $13.8 billion to finish the development phase of the F-35 fighter, on top of the $37 billion spent to date.
DellaVedova said development of the Air Force and Navy versions of the F-35 would be extended by 10 months until the first quarter of 2016, while 20 months would be added to the development of the Marine Corps variant.
A detailed schedule laying out development and operational testing would be available later this year, he said. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Gary Hill)