With the global fleet of F-35 Lightning IIs now standing at 894 aircraft, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) and Lockheed Martin rounded off 2022 by finalising a $30bn contract for the production and delivery of up to 398 F-35s for both US and Foreign Military Sales customers under Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lots 15, 16 and 17.
This newly signed agreement – which was announced on December 30 – will see Lockheed Martin produce 145 F-35s under LRIP Lot 15 and 127 aircraft in LRIP Lot 16. The deal also comes with an option to produce and deliver a further 126 F-35s under LRIP Lot 17 and will include the first examples of the fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter for Belgium, Finland and Poland. On November 14, 2022, the Belgian Ministry of Defence (MOD) revealed that production of its first F-35A had started at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
The aircraft produced in LRIP Lots 15-17 will be the first to include the modernised Technical Refresh-3 (TR-3) hardware, which is needed to power the type’s Block 4 capabilities. Among other things, the TR-3 update includes a new integrated core processor with greater computing power when compared with F-35s already in use, along with the addition of an enhanced memory unit and a panoramic cockpit display.
Commenting on the awarding of this latest F-35 mega-contract and the capabilities offered by the Block 4 Lightning II, US Air Force (USAF) Lt Gen Mike Schmidt – program executive officer at the F-35 JPO – said: “The F-35 delivers unsurpassed capability to our warfighters and operational commanders. This contract strikes the right balance between what’s best for the US taxpayers, military services, allies and Foreign Military Sales customers. The F-35 is the world’s premier multi-mission, fifth-generation weapon system, and the modernised Block 4 capabilities these new aircraft will bring to bear strengthens not just capability, but interoperability with our allies and partners across land, sea, air and cyber domains.”
The awarding of this $30bn production contract marked a strong end to 2022 for the F-35 programme. The global Lightning II fleet grew by 141 last year and now stands at 894 aircraft. Lockheed Martin had initially planned to deliver 148 aircraft in 2022, but due to the imposing of a temporary pause in F-35 flight operations – which is still in effect – the necessary acceptance flight tests on the remaining seven aircraft could not be completed. Deliveries of the type to customers were halted after a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL)-capable F-35B suffered a landing mishap at Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas – the home of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 production facility – on December 15.
Last year also saw four new nations select the F-35 to fulfil their future capability requirements: Canada, Finland, Germany and Switzerland – with the three latter nations subsequently signing Letters of Offer and Acceptance (LOAs) for their respective Lightning II procurements before the end of the year.
Bridget Lauderdale, vice president and general manager of the F-35 programme at Lockheed Martin, added: “Continuing to add new countries to our global F-35 fleet further validates the capability and affordability of this aircraft in providing 21st Century security to nations and allies. There is simply no other aircraft that can do all that the F-35 does to defeat and deter even the most advanced threats.”
As of the start of 2023, the global F-35 programme includes 17 countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, the UK and the US. Additional nations, such as Greece, are expected to also join the F-35 programme in the future. According to Lockheed Martin, more than 1,870 pilots and 13,500 maintainers have been trained on the type, with the global F-35 fleet having surpassed more than 602,000 cumulative flight hours to date.