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Kendall: F-35 Production Ramp-Up a Tough Call

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This article first appeared in AWIN First.

Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall says he hopes to ramp up production of the single-engine, stealthy F-35, made by Lockheed Martin, but he will only do so if adequate progress is made in testing on the troubled program.

Production is slated to go as high as 44 aircraft in fiscal 2014 and then 66 aircraft in 2015 for the Pentagon -- up from 29 -- if all goes well. Testing thus far has been marred by propulsion problems, durability issues with some F-35 parts and faulty helmets. The tailhook for the F-35C carrier version is also a problem.

"The big decision for me on the F-35 will be the decision on the FY 15 budget: Do we ramp up or not?," Kendall told reporters at a speech during the Credit Suisse/McAleese Defense Programs conference March 12. "I put two years of flat [production] into the budget last year and I did it as a compromise between stopping entirely and the current plan at the time. That had a big impact on Lockheed. A lot of business slid off on that. I don't want to do that again. I want to get the rate up if I can."

Lockheed Martin, however, must deliver on its flight testing and software programs.

"If they stay on track, then we are going to go head and ramp up. The fate of the program is in Lockheed's hands."

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program executive officer, says the per-unit price is coming down with each progressive low-rate, initial production (LRIP) contract; the contractor is in LRIP 5. However, the aircraft in LRIP 4 is slated to cost about 7% more than those in the previous lot, Bogdan says.

Bogdan and Lockheed Martin expect to complete negotiations on LRIPs 6 and 7 this summer.

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