Defense Department, Lockheed Martin reach deal on F-35 fighter jets

Lockheed Martin has reached agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense for the next 90 F-35 Joint Strike fighter jets in a move that shaves $728 million off the total cost of the program.

In a statement posted on its website, the defense contractor said, “President Donald Trump’s personal involvement in the F-35 program accelerated the negotiations and sharpened our focus on driving down the price.”

Trump in late December also had tweeted about the F-35, complaining about its high cost. Some of the fighter jets are in use at Nellis Air Force Base.

Lockheed Martin said the agreement represents $728 million in savings and a nearly 8 percent reduction in price over the last contract. “The increase in the number of aircraft in this agreement enables us to reduce costs by taking advantage of economies of scale and production efficiencies.”

In a statement, F-35 Program Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan called the contract “a good and fair deal for the taxpayers, the U.S. Government, allies, and Industry.”

The unit cost of the plane has been on a long downward trend as Lockheed ramps up its volume of production. The company has been saying for years that it expects the cost of the plane to fall to $85 million per plane over the next few years, and the Air Force’s budget for 2017 already reflects cost reductions of about $10 million per plane.

Thirteen F-35As from Hill Air Force Base, Utah have been flying in the ongoing Red Flag air combat exercise at Nellis Air Force Base.

Since it began Jan. 23, the F-35A — the Air Force version of the $100 million joint strike fighter — has been flying in tandem with the nation’s other stealth air-superiority jet, the F-22 Raptor, and more than 80 other warplanes and support aircraft from the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Some of more than a dozen F-35 Lightning IIs at Nellis are assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, a tenant squadron at Nellis that is part of the 53rd Wing in Florida. Nellis is expected to have 36 for testing and training by 2020.

Nellis received its first F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter in January 2015. It has been used by a cadre of experienced pilots for doctorate-level training to develop and validate the combat tactics playbook for the high-tech fighter.

The F-35A can fly at 1½ times the speed of sound, fire air-to-air missiles, drop GPS- and laser-guided bombs, and has a 25 mm cannon. Cameras on the aircraft give pilots a 360-degree view on their helmet visors.

In July, the Marine Corps model, the F-35B, made history when six from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 based in Yuma, Arizona, became the first joint strike fighters to participate in a Red Flag air combat exercise at Nellis.

Review-Journal reporter Keith Rogers and The Washington Post contributed to this story.

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