The Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer says production of Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT:US)’s F-35 fighter will increase in fiscal 2015 beyond the 29 being purchased this year, barring unexpected setbacks.
“We are coming up on the decision this fall,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition, told reporters today on a telephone conference call during a visit to Lockheed’s F-35 plant in Fort Worth, Texas. “Unless there is a significant surprise, I think we will able to raise production” in fiscal 2015, he said.
The production rate is planned to remain at 29 in fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1, and then increase to 42 planes in fiscal 2015, 62 in 2016, 76 in 2017 and 100 in 2018, according to internal Pentagon budget documents.
Kendall has voiced increasing optimism about the F-35, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons system, since a $500 million drop in projected costs for retrofitting aircraft already built and a 1.1 percent decline reported last month in the program’s estimated total cost.
Even with the improvements, the $391.2 billion projected cost to develop and build 2,443 jets for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps has increased 68 percent since the Pentagon signed its initial contract for the fighter with Lockheed in 2001.
The development program is now performing “close to plan,” Kendall said. Schedule delays in several areas are “not dramatic,” he said.
“I am encouraged by the progress, but there still is a great deal of work to be done,” he said. The program is about 40 percent through its flight-test plan, with “a fair amount” of the most difficult software testing ahead, he said.
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