The Defense Department and Lockheed Martin have finalized a $34 billion contract for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a record amount for the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program.
The agreement to deliver 478 of the advanced fighter jets to both the U.S. military and international partners will lower the cost of each F-35, Ellen Lord, the under secretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters at the Pentagon.
“This agreement represents our continued commitment to reduced F-35 costs aggressively,” Lord said on Tuesday.
The F-35 program, valued at just more than $400 billion, has been plagued by setbacks over the years. Decried by critics as a boondoggle, the program has been beset by cost overruns, with software delays for the jets, corrosion and problems with tire durability and ejection seats.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General found that Defense Department officials did not account for and manage $2.1 billion worth of F-35 parts over 16 years. Instead, the Pentagon must rely on Lockheed to tell the Defense Department where and when it spent those funds.
Defense officials sought to downplay such issues on Tuesday and instead highlighted the lower cost per aircraft across all three types of the F-35.
The per-jet cost of the Air Force’s F-35A will be $78 million each, the first time the price has fallen below $80 million.
The Marine Corps F-35B, meanwhile, will fall to $101.3 million per aircraft, and the Navy’s F-35C will drop to $94.4 million.
Lockheed Martin also touted the lower cost.
“With smart acquisition strategies, strong government-industry partnership and a relentless focus on quality and cost reduction, the F-35 Enterprise has successfully reduced procurement costs of the 5th Generation F-35 to equal or less than 4th Generation legacy aircraft,” Lockheed F-35 Vice President Greg Ulmer said in a statement.
One international partner that will not be using the F-35 is Turkey, a NATO ally.
The Pentagon this year removed Turkey as a partner in the program after the country took delivery of a Russian air defense system, which officials feared could be used to gather sensitive information from the F-35.
Lord said Tuesday there “has been no change to return Turkey to the F-35 program.”