Pentagon to review progress of F-35 fighter program next week

Pentagon to review progress of F-35 fighter program next week

Pentagon to review progress of F-35 fighter program next week

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company Chief Test Pilot Alan Norman (R) briefs Israel's Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon (L) in the cockpit of an F-35, as Israeli Air Force Brig Gen Ya'akov Shaharabani looks on, at the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas October 10, 2013 in this handout photo provided by Lockheed Martin. REUTERS photo

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 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 government documents.

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 chiefFrank 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.