The Pentagon has finalized a $34 billion agreement with Lockheed Martin Corp. for the next three batches of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, firming up its largest stealth fighter jet deal to date.
Officials on Tuesday said the delivery groups, known as Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) lots 12, 13 and 14, include the delivery of 478 F-35 aircraft -- with 149, 160 and 169 jets per batch -- for the U.S. military services and international customers.
The deal means the price of each F-35A, the Air Force and foreign military sale variant, will fall below $80 million more quickly than the Defense Department had expected, according to Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord.
"We will reach a unit-recurring flyaway-cost-per-aircraft target of $80 million for a U.S. Air Force F-35A price by Lot 13, which is one lot earlier than planned, a significant milestone for the department," she told reporters during a briefing Tuesday at the Pentagon.
Pentagon and Lockheed officials estimate an average 12.76% percent price drop for all variants from Lot 11 through 14. For the A model specifically, the price per jet will be $82.4 million in Lot 12, $79.2 million in Lot 13, and $77.9 in Lot 14, according to figures provided by Lockheed.
The agreement includes 291 fifth-generation fighters for the U.S., 127 for international partners in the program, and 60 for foreign military sale customers.
Pentagon officials in June originally said Lot 12 would include 157 jets. Lord, alongside Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, F-35 Program Executive Officer, could not immediately explain the disparity, although the Defense Department is in the midst of removing Turkey as a partner from the program.
The Pentagon has put pressure on Lockheed to reduce costs where it can, officials have said, trying to get the cost reduced to at least $80 million per jet for years.
The Air Force is the largest customer for the aircraft, with hopes to procure 1,763 of the A variant. The F-35 program's total cost has been projected at more than $1 trillion over a 50-year service lifetime.
The news comes as DoD officials announced they will not clear the aircraft for full-rate production this year, after setbacks during a critical testing phase.
The Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) may not sign off on the F-35 full-rate production milestone -- a sign of confidence in the program to produce more fighter jets -- until as late as January 2021 because of the latest testing lapse in what's known as the Joint Simulation Environment (JSE), Military.com previously reported.
The JSE projects variables such as weather, geography and range, allowing test pilots to prove the aircraft's "full capabilities against the full range of required threats and scenarios," according to a 2015 Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) report.
Despite the unfinished test, some versions of the F-35 have made their combat debut.
Fick said the JSE is "crucial" within the larger Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) phase, and added it may be completed sooner than 2021
During Tuesday's briefing, Fick said the Joint Program office is currently getting the simulation approved, adding it is expected to be ready in the "March [or] April timeframe."
"It should conclude by June or July," he said.