Pentagon, Lockheed to sign major F-35 deal under Trump’s pressure
The Pentagon is about to seal a $9 billion deal with Lockheed Martin Corp to buy more F-35 fighter jets amid ongoing negotiations to make the aircraft less expensive.
The new deal includes 90 more aircraft and is expected to be announced at the end of this month, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing three sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The negotiations for the tenth batch of the F-35s are overshadowed by US President-elect Donald Trump’s criticisms of the project’s high costs.
According to Roger Carr, the chairman of the UK weapons manufacturer BAE Systems, Trump has urged Lockheed and its partners to slash the aircraft’s cost by at least 10 percent.
A few weeks ago, Trump asked Boeing in a tweet to “price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet,” causing Lockheed and BAE’s shares to drop overnight.
The $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter program, which is described as the most expensive in history, has been dogged by problems since it was launched in 2001.
The project has missed several deadlines due to recurrent software bugs and dissatisfactory performances.
A technical problem forced the Air Force to ground its fleet of F-35s in September, only two months after declaring the aircraft combat-ready.
A fuel system deficiency, faulty diagnostic systems, cracks in wing spars, lack of high-fidelity simulators for combat missions, and a pilot escape system that could kill ejecting pilots are among the problems that has so far been cited for the system, according to Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s top weapons tester.
The US Defense Department expects to purchase 2,443 of the stealth warplanes over the next few decades.
The F-35 has three variants: the A-model with conventional takeoff and landing which is the export version; the F-35 B variant, which can handle short takeoffs and vertical landings for the Marine Corps and the British navy; and the F-35C, designed exclusively for the US Navy.
Lockheed's F-35 program manager Jeff Babione said last summer that the price of the F-35A is expected to drop to under $100 million per unit in the coming months.