Production Efficiencies Pushing Down F-35 Unit Cost

Le Bourget, France—Efficiencies and process improvements are helping Lockheed Martin to reach its goal of being able to offer the F-35 strike fighter at a unit cost around $80 million in a few years, said company F-35 Executive Vice President Lorraine Martin here on Monday. The $80 million figure, which Lockheed Martin projects it could offer by 2018-19, is very important to the company “because that’s where our customers want it to be,” Martin told reporters at the Paris Air Show. At that point, the fifth generation F-35 would be at the same price or less than “any fourth generation capability in the world,” she said. Already, Lockheed Martin has deeply slashed the number of labor hours required to produce an F-35, from 153,000 hours a copy in 2011 with airframe AF-6 down to 50,000 hours for a recent unit on the manufacturing line, she said. The company expects labor hours to dip even further, down to 35,000 hours per airframe by 2020, “if we keep the production as forecasted,” said Martin. The spike in international orders will get the production line up to around 170 aircraft a year, she noted. The company is now in negotiations for the next two low-rate initial production lots: lot 9 and lot 10, and Martin. She said she anticipates the F-35’s then-year price will dip below $100 million after 2016.