Despite the added challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lockheed Martin delivered 123 F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighters to customers in 2020 – the last of which was handed over in mid-December.
During the year, Lockheed Martin delivered 74 examples of the F-35 Lightning II to the US military, 31 to international partner nations and 18 to Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers. The 123rd and final example to be delivered in 2020 was a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL)-configured F-35A, which was handed over to the Italian Air Force. The aircraft was manufactured at Lockheed Martin’s Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) facility in Cameri, northern Italy.
At the start of 2020, Lockheed Martin envisaged that it would deliver 141 F-35s to customers around the globe. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company revised this figure to between 117 and 123 in May to avoid increased production-related costs and future delays and disruptions.
Bill Brotherton, acting vice president and general manager of the F-35 programme, said: “The F-35 joint enterprise team rapidly responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to continue to deliver the unmatched combat capability the F-35 brings to the warfighter. Achieving this milestone amid a global pandemic is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the team and their commitment to our customers’ missions.”
According to Lockheed Martin, the firm enforced “proactive measures to mitigate COVID-19 supplier impacts and position the programme for the fastest possible recovery by adjusting employee work schedules, maintaining specialised employee skillsets, and providing accelerated payments to small and vulnerable suppliers.”
The firm adds that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a short-term impact on the continued production of the F-35. In a press release issued on December 28, 2020, the firm added that the “F-35 programme continues to work diligently and is on track to meet the joint government and industry recovery commitments over the coming years.”
As of the start of 2021, more than 600 F-35s are operational from 26 air bases and ships across the globe. Lockheed Martin adds that more than 1,200 pilots and 10,000 maintainers have been trained on the platform and that the global F-35 fleet has surpassed 350,000 cumulative flight hours.
Nine nations – comprising Australia, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, the UK and the US – are operating the Lightning II in their own sovereign territories. In 2021, deliveries to these nations will continue and the company is expected to hand over its first F-35A to Denmark, making the Scandinavian country the tenth operator of the Lightning II.