F-35s set for price drop with new production contract

The Pentagon's F-35 Joint Program Office has contracted Lockheed Martin to produce and deliver Lots 12, 13 and 14 of the F-35A/B/C Lightning II for US military service, international partners and other foreign military sales. The contract will also see the F-35 become cheaper.

The contract, worth a staggering $34 billion, will see the production and delivery of 478 F-35A/B/Cs across the newly contracted Lots 12, 13 and 14 - with Lockheed Martin currently producing Lot 11. As per the contract, 291 F-35s will be produced for use across the US military; 127 will be delivered to international programme partners and a further 60 for other foreign military sales (FMS) - a total of 478.

USAF F-35A [Khalem Chapman]
US Air Force F-35A Lightning II, 12-5052, from Luke Air Force Base performs the UK's first F-35A display over RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, on the opening day of the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in July 2016. Khalem Chapman

The new Lots will also see all variants of the F-35 reduce in costs, with individual Lot 14 aircraft costing approximately 12-13% less than those produced in Lot 11. These Lots will take place in 2020, 2021 and 2022 respectively, with aircraft getting cheaper each year. By the end of Lot 14, the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35A Lightning II will cost less than $78 million, the short take-off, vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B variant will cost just over $100 million and carrier-based F-35C will be priced under $95 million. See the full price reduction per contracted Lot below;

F-35 Lot Reduction Prices [Lockheed Martin]
Lot 12 (2020), Lot 13 (2021) and Lot 14 (2022). Figure from Lockheed Martin

Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin's F-35 Program vice president and general manager, boasted that the F-35 (well, F-35A) is now in league with fourth-generation fighters, following the reduction of price across Lots 12, 13 and 14. He said: “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 [fifth-generation] F-35 to equal or less than [fourth-generation] legacy aircraft... With the F-35A unit cost now below $80 million in Lot 13, we were able to exceed our long-standing cost reduction commitment one year earlier than planned.”

USMC F-35B [Khalem Chapman]
US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II, BuNo 168726 'VM-18', from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501) 'Warlords' lines up to depart RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, after being part of the F-35's UK debut at RIAT in July 2016. Khalem Chapman

More than 450 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighters have been produced so far.  

The F-35 has been ordered or has already entered service with Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the US. Turkey was also supposed to operate a fleet of F-35As, but the US government blocked the acquisition and removed the country from the F-35 programme in July 2019, following Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 air defence system, citing security concerns.

The current order schedule will see more than 2,000 F-35s in total produced for the US and other nations committed to procuring the aircraft, with the potential of further exports increasing. The F-35 has recently been demonstrated in Finland and Switzerland in response to requests for proposals for new fighter aircraft from the respective countries.