A new Pentagon plan could cost Lockheed Martin billions of dollars in lost sales -- and give them all to Boeing.
At an estimated cost of $1.5 trillion, Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth fighter will eventually become the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history. It's also turning into one of the slowest rollouts in history -- and both of those could be problems for Lockheed.
According to data from defense aerospace analysts at BGA-Aeroweb, Lockheed Martin had delivered 126 F-35s to the military through the end of last year. Add 28 more planes through year-end 2015, and this program, 15 years in the making, has so far averaged fewer than 10 planes produced per year.
Why is this a problem? To hit its target of fielding a force of 1,763 F-35A fighter jets by 2038, the U.S. Air Force needs Lockheed to build nearly one full fighter wing -- 72 F-35s -- a year, every year, for the next 22 years. Lockheed's working hard to reach full-rate production by 2019. But even so, Air Force officials worry that it's not building the planes fast enough.
What's more, even if Lockheed can build the planes, the Air Force may not be able to afford them.
Slow and steady loses the race
BGA-Aeroweb estimates that each F-35 "A" aircraft currently costs taxpayers $129 million. (And that's the cheapest F-35 version. Carrier variant F-35Cs cost $170 million apiece, and an F-35B "hover" jet will set you back $183 million.) (Emphasis added—Ed.)
At these prices, the Air Force's F-35 allotment alone will cost nearly a quarter-trillion dollars up front, with hundreds of billions of dollars more needed for service and maintenance, upgrades, fuel, and armaments. (It's these additional costs that make up the bulk of the plane's widely touted "$1.5 trillion" value.)
Between problems with the production rate and the cost of the bill, the Air Force is now considering alternatives to the F-35. (end of excerpt)
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