News F-35 deliveries halted after Texas accident; new contract finalized

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin announced Friday that it has stopped accepting flights and delivering new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters amid an investigation into the cause of an F-35B crash on a Texas runway this month. .

The shutdown means Lockheed will deliver fewer F-35s in 2022 than the 148 required under the contract.

Before the Dec. 15 F-35B accident, Lockheed spokeswoman Laura Siebert told Defense News, “We are on track to meet our delivery commitments.” “However, given the pause in deliveries, we delivered 141 aircraft this year”.

The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin also announced on Friday that they had finalized a contract worth up to $30 billion to provide the U.S. and International customers delivered as many as 398 F-35s. However, the contract only guarantees Lot 15 and 16, and an option for Lot 17.

The contract will also include the first F-35s for Belgium, Finland and Poland, Lockheed said in a release.

Lockheed stopped accepting flights “out of an abundance of caution” after the Dec. 15 accident, Siebert said. And since those flights had to take place before the newly built F-35s were delivered, it also had the effect of stopping deliveries.

Since then, Lockheed Martin has continued to build new F-35s at Fort Worth, Texas, Air Force Plant 4, the main facility for building fifth-generation fighter jets. But in the second half of December, those newly completed F-35s remained on the ground.

Nine new F-35s are awaiting acceptance flights and deliveries, Siebert said.

Video of the Dec. 15 crash that went viral on social media shows the F-35B hovering not far from the ground, bouncing once and tipping forward before descending. Its nose and wings touch the ground, and it spins. The pilot ejected safely.

This is a newly built F-35B that has not yet been turned over to the US government. The pilot was in the Air Force and was doing quality checks for the Defense Contract Administration at the time.

Naval Air Systems Command, with support from the F-35 Joint Program Office, is still investigating the accident. But earlier this week, the Japan Patent Office responded to the incident by issuing guidance for a small number of new F-35s it considers to be at higher risk.

In a statement to Defense News on Tuesday, the Japan Patent Office said it “has issued a Time Compliance Technical Directive (TCTD) to restrict the Flight operations during the investigation of the accident continue until a procedure is developed to return them to the flight.”

The JPO would not say how many fighter jets were grounded.

A source familiar with the program told Defense News that an investigation into the Dec. 15 accident found that a tube in the engine of the Pratt & Whitney-made fighter jet F135 failed to deliver high-pressure fuel. The finding prompted the JPO to update its safety risk assessment, which affects jets with less than 40 hours of flight time.

Pratt & Whitney declined to comment to Defense News about the Dec. 15 accident because it relates to an ongoing investigation.

The latest F-35 contract may include more fighters than the Pentagon initially estimated. When the handshake agreement was announced in July, William LaPlante, the Pentagon’s chief arms purchaser, said the deal involved about 375 aircraft.

But Lockheed Martin’s largest order for the 398 fighters it will now build — 145 in Lot 15, 127 in Lot 16, and an option for up to 126 in Lot 17 — is still worth $34 billion more than before Orders for 80 fewer aircraft are included in the 12th batch of contracts signed in 2019 through 14.

“The F-35 provides our warfighters and combatant commanders unparalleled capabilities,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Mike Schmidt, F-35 program executive officer, said in a Lockheed press release. “This contract strikes the right balance of what is best for the American taxpayer, military, allies, and our foreign military sales customers.”

Lockheed said it has delivered 894 F-35s worldwide to date, including 141 this year.Other countries set to receive the fighter jets as part of the latest contract include Australia, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom

“Continuing to add new countries to our global F-35 fleet further validates this aircraft,” said Bridget Lauderdale, vice president and general manager of the Lockheed Martin F-35 program. Capability and affordability in providing 21st century security for nations and allies.” “There is simply no other aircraft capable of defeating and deterring the most advanced threats like the F-35.”

Lockheed said the average price of an F-35A — that is, all the parts in the fighter except the engine — will rise 6.5% between Lot 14 and Lot 17. It added that it was able to keep cost increases below the rate of inflation.

Lockheed said the F-35A costs $65.6 million per aircraft in Lot 14. The cost of Lot 15 will rise to $70.2 million, then drop to $69.3 million on Lot 16, before rising again to $69.9 million on Lot 17.

The government’s contract with Pratt & Whitney, maker of the F135’s engine, has not yet been finalized, so a total price for the F-35, including the engine, cannot yet be calculated, Siebert said.

This is a departure from previous contracts, which saw the cost of the F-35 drop over the years. The average price per F-35 in 2019 will drop from Block 11 to Block 14, a drop of about 12.8%, the Pentagon said.

Lockheed said several factors contributed to the higher costs, including inflation, supply chain issues and other complications related to COVID-19, as well as fewer jets being purchased.

F-35s built for Block 15 and later will include more powerful features, most notably Technology Update 3 upgrades to the jet’s hardware and software, which Lockheed says are also contributing to the price increase s reason. The TR3 upgrade is intended to improve the F-35’s display, processing power and memory while paving the way for the jet’s Block 4 modernization efforts.

“You’re adding capability, you’re buying more jets now,” Edward Smith, Lockheed Martin’s director of F-35 domestic engagement, told Defense News during a November visit to Plant 4. “Your prices will go up a bit. You can’t [get the price lower] By cutting the purchase of … aircraft. “

Schmidt touted that the next batch of F-35s will get enhanced capabilities at launch.

“The F-35 is the world’s premier multi-mission fifth-generation weapon system, and the modernized Block 4 capabilities these new aircraft will bring enhance not only capabilities, but also enhanced engagement with our allies and partners on land, sea and air. Interoperability and the cyber domain,” Schmidt said.

Lockheed said it expects to deliver 147 to 153 fighter jets a year over the next two years, though that could change due to a suspension of deliveries at the end of 2022.

Stephen Losey is the air combat reporter for Defense News. He has previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times and the Pentagon, and special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to report on U.S. Air Force operations.

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