Defence Notes

Lockheed Martin homes in on Europe for F-35 growth

24th July 2020 - 15:15 GMT | by Tim Martin in London

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In attempting to reach a F-35 Lightning II programme of record amounting to 3,500 aircraft, Lockheed Martin remains firmly focused on maximising business opportunities in Europe.

New orders could arrive from Finland, Switzerland, Greece and the Czech Republic but these depend on competitions and discussions favouring the fifth-generation stealth jet.

‘Now that we have successfully reduced the price per unit of the aircraft and we’re working similarly on [reducing] sustainment costs, they are going to equal or be less than costs of legacy jets, so when you think about the value of the F-35 it is simply unmatched,’ Erin Moseley, VP strategy and BD at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics said during a webinar in place of the Farnborough Airshow.

An F-35A took part in Finland’s HX flight test demonstrations in February as Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Boeing, Dassault and Saab all await week-long negotiations (one per competitor) with the Finnish MoD, before industry are requested to submit best and final offers for the €10 billion ($11.2 billion) acquisition aimed at replacing a fleet of retiring F/A-18C/D Hornets.

A winning contractor is scheduled to be announced in 2021.

In May, an internal report from Switzerland’s Military Intelligence Service reportedly found that F-35B and F-35C variants suffer from serious afterburner problems causing excessive heat to rise from the rear of the airframe and also cause blisters on the radar absorbent coating of the jet. The report also raised the possibility of the F-35A facing similar issues, according to Swiss French-language newspaper La Liberté.

The F-35A is one of four aircraft in the running for Switzerland’s CHF6 billion ($6.5 billion) Air2030 acquisition, which is intended to source a replacement for Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II and Boeing F/A-18 Hornet fleets should a national referendum, due to be held on 27 September, decide to proceed with the programme.

Competition stipulations also require the winning Air2030 manufacturer to provide Swiss industry with 60% of supplier contracts.

Switzerland has extended a RfP deadline for industry until November 2020 to allow manufacturers additional time to prefer offers and overcome COVID-19 issues.

Bern has already evaluated the F-35A, Eurofighter Typhoon, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Rafale following flight trials held between April and June 2019.

The Swiss Air Force evaluated the F-35 in 2019. (Credit: DDPS)

Elsewhere, Greece has not yet signed up for the F-35 despite various reports that 30 platforms were under consideration in April 2019 as a replacement for aging F-16C/D Block 30 aircraft.

More recently, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, Greek defence minister, said that 24 F-35s will be acquired in a deal worth $3 billion, but no FMS has been approved and a firm contract has not been signed.

Lockheed Martin is prepared to offer the F-35A or F-16 to the Czech Republic to replace 14 Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen fighters, according to local media, but it remains to be seen when an order will be made.

Outside Europe, Lockheed Martin has until the end of July to offer the F-35 in answer to the RfP for Canada’s Future Fighter Capability Project, while the Defense Security Cooperation Agency approved a request from Japan to buy 105 of the jets on 9 July – a deal worth $23.11 billion and the second largest FMS request in history.

Aside from future order prospects, the UK MoD has been informed by Lockheed Martin that a two- to three-month delivery delay will force the late arrival of new F-35B aircraft.

At a wider programme and productional level, the manufacturer has acknowledged that an annual target of 141 deliveries could slip by as many as 24 units due to COVID-19 issues and suppliers being unable to maintain timely deliveries.

Although the F-35 programme is yet to reach full rate production, the company expects to shortly return to the level it reached before COVID-19 caused a slowdown.

‘We're working very closely with our customers to limit impacts to their services, and align deliveries to their mission priorities,’ Darren Sekiguchi, VP F-35 production at Lockheed Martin said.

‘We designed the F-35 supply chain with a broad industrial base to provide flexibility and to lessen impact should any one source experience issues, and this approach continues to be beneficial as we manage in the current situation.’

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