Lockheed Martin targets Lot 16 F-35 production as key landmark of 2021

Lockheed Martin is eyeing its Lot 16 production run of the F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter – due to begin in Q4 – as a key landmark of its aeronautics business for 2021.

The firm also points to delivering on the backlog of more than 100 F-16 Fighting Falcons currently on order as a target for 2022.

At present, nine countries operate either the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL)-configured F-35A or its short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) counterpart, the F-35B. The US Navy is expected to see the F-35C carrier variant (CV) become fully operational later this year. In addition, four countries are awaiting delivery of aircraft already ordered.

F-35A [USAF/Staff Sgt Joely Santiago]
The first operational USAF F-35A on its delivery flight to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in July 2011. USAF/Staff Sgt Joely Santiago

The older F-16 is one of the most widely produced fourth-generation fighters in history, with more than 4,000 delivered since it first entered service in the late-1970s. Although production nearly stopped, new orders for its latest Block 70/72 version looks set to maintain the line for some time to come.

The details emerged during an April 20 webcast, which outlined Lockheed Martin’s Q1 performance across its four main divisions – aeronautics, rotary and mission systems, space, and missiles and fire control. These four divisions saw Q1 2021 net sales of US$16.3bn, compared to $15.7bn in Q1 2020.

Its aeronautics division, under which programmes such as the F-16 and F-35 sit, saw net sales in Q1 2021 as ‘comparable’ to the same period in 2020, including around US$20m for the F-16 programme due to an increased production contract volume, although this was partially offset by decreased volume on sustainment contracts.

However, such increases were offset by lower net sales of approximately US$65m for the F-35 programme, due in part to a lower volume on development and production contracts, and a further US$65m for the F-22 programme due to a decreased volume on sustainment contracts.

F-16D Fighting Falcon [USAF/Osakabe Yasuo]
The Lockheed Martin (formerly General Dynamics) F-16 Fighting Falcon first entered operational service with the US Air Force (USAF) in August 1978. Production of new-build examples continues today, with the F-16V Block 70/72 'Viper' being the most recent variant of the type to be offered on the global market. Pictured is a USAF-operated F-16D landing at Yokata Air Base in Japan. USAF/Osakabe Yasuo

During the webcast, company officials stated that the Lot 16 production run of the F-35 programme would produce aircraft on a near 50-50 ratio for domestic and overseas customers, adding that it would be a milestone for the aeronautics division in 2021. However, there was caution that Lot 16 ‘could move to the right’, officials said. The F-35 programme will see aircraft from Lots 12 and 13 delivered through 2021, while Lot 15 was deferred from 2020 into 2021.

In addition to this, efforts to reduce the operating cost of the aircraft to the planned US$25,000 per flight hour – described as ‘achievable’ – were ongoing, with a need for a ‘joint strategy’ from stakeholders to define roles and responsibilities through the supply chain, which is key in that regard.

Regarding the rejuvenated F-16 programme, it is planned that eight aircraft will be delivered to customers 2022, while the company aims to increase production of the type by the middle of the decade. Currently, Lockheed Martin has a backlog of 128 F-16s in its order books. Key Publishing’s AirForces Intelligence states that F-16 Block 70/72 Fighting Falcons have been purchased by Bahrain (16), Bulgaria (8), Morocco (24), Slovakia (14) and Taiwan (66).