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Lockheed Martin confident of meeting $25,000 F-35 flight hour target

21st April 2021 - 08:25 GMT | by Tim Martin in London

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Lockheed Martin delivered 17 F-35 aircraft during Q1 2021 (Photo: US Air Force)

New sustainment plans could see Lockheed Martin reduce operating costs of the F-35 to $25,000 per flight hour.

Lockheed Martin has said a $25,000 flight hour cost target set by the F-35 Joint Program Office is achievable, but the manufacturer suggested that it still has work to do before ‘optimal sustainment strategies’ are implemented on the fifth-generation jet programme.

Excessive sustainment costs have led to public criticism of the aircraft recently, including Adam Smith, US House Armed Services Committee chair, describing the costs themselves as ‘brutal’ during a Brookings Institution event on 5 March, while cuts could be called for under the forthcoming FY2022 US defence budget request.

‘It’s an expensive machine and it’s expensive to maintain in large part because of stealth technologies,’ said James Taiclet, Lockheed Martin CEO, during a Q1 2021 company results briefing on 20 April.

‘What we need to do [about sustainment] is have a joint strategy and develop it with our Joint Program Office and our services through our end customers…get the optimal sustainment strategies, the right level of funding for spare parts and really clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the depot system, frontline maintenance and for the OEM in our supply chain. I think that’s a very doable thing.’

Alongside sustainment issues, the F-35 is yet to reach full-rate production, as Lockheed announced a delivery total of 17 aircraft for Q1 2021, five fewer than the same period in 2020.

That said, Taiclet talked up demand, saying that a ‘ballpark $9 billion’ F-35 Lot 16 production contract would be signed off in Q4 2021.

‘In fact, when you start getting out to that time period the partner [nations] and FMS percentage of aircraft [being built] gets close to roughly 50%,’ he added.

Net company sales were also up by four per cent for the quarter, working out at $16.3 billion – a 4% increase on last year.

Those figures included a 10% surge for the Rotary and Mission Systems division, which saw sales rise from $3.7 billion in Q1 2020 to $4.1 billion this time around.

On the rotary front, the manufacturer saw success over the quarter by securing an order from Israel for the in-development CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter.

‘We look forward to working with the Israeli Defence Force and the US government to finalise the agreement,’ said Taiclet.

He also confirmed that a King Stallion Lot five production contract is expected to be agreed ‘this year’.

Elsewhere, Lockheed Martin’s acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne, initially announced in December 2020, continues to progress as expected. 

Aerojet stockholders have since approved the merger agreement, with both it and Lockheed also receiving a request for additional information - a regulatory review requirement - from the Federal Trade Commission.

'Resolution’ of the regulatory review process should happen in ‘the latter part of 2021,’ according to Lockheed.

The acquisition represents a significant piece of business for the manufacturer, effectively accelerating its space and hypersonic missile technology ambitions.

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