Israel intends to order 25 Lockheed Martin F-35 fifth-generation fighters, with an option for 50 more. If it wants them quickly, as expected, the news could help some other international partners in the Joint Strike Fighter program.
The Israelis have asked for an early multi-year buy (MYB) to reduce the unit cost of their first F-35s. At more than $120 million each, early production F-35As are almost three times as expensive as those to be procured during full-rate production.
According to Tom Burbage, executive vice president and general manager for
F-35 Program Integration, Lockheed Martin is still pursuing the international MYB.
But it now cannot be agreed until next year at the earliest, for deliveries beginning in 2013. Burbage told AIN that F-35 suppliers had been too busy to work up multi-year quotes. Three international partners have recently specified their expected buys (Australia, 100; Italy, 131 and Turkey, 100). Norway has confirmed the F-35 and said it will buy more than the planned 48. But the UK requirement has officially dropped from 150 to 138, and may fall further. Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands are still evaluating alternative combat aircraft.
Burbage said that the “cost-improvement curve” for F-35 production is developing according to predictions, at least as far as the airframe is concerned (the engines are procured separately). The program is now quoting an average unit recurring flyaway cost of $49 million ($ 2002) for the F-35A conventional version, and $60 million for the F-35B STOVL and F-35C carrier-capable versions. A cardinal selling point of the F-35 program has been that customers can have a stealthy, fifth-generation combat aircraft at an affordable price.
At a media briefing here today, Burbage and colleague Dan Crowley are expected to report progress on the F-35 flight test program. Burbage admitted to AIN that Lockheed Martin had failed to fly airplanes according to schedule. Only three of the 13 test birds have taken off to date, and flying hours have lagged significantly. Burbage predicted the first flights of six to eight more airplanes by year-end. Of equal importance, he said, three aircraft (BF-1/2/4) are to be delivered to the U.S. Navy test center and one (AF-1) to the U.S. Air Force test center by year-end.
According to Burbage, the delays had been offset by excellent progress in flying the CATbird, a Boeing 737 modified with F-35 avionics. This test has recently validated Operational Flight Program 0.5, the first iteration of the F-35’s mission software, which is now ready to fly in BF-4. Moreover, testing of the static article has exceeded all expectations, having been taken to 10.5g, 150-percent of limit load, with 40,000 nodes of the Finite Element Model covered. This means that as the remaining test aircraft take to the air, they are not constrained by any restrictions to the flight envelope.
“Next year, we’ll stand up the Edwards and Patuxent River flight test centers, and they have a heavy test schedule through 2011,” Burbage continued. He also noted that the F-35 training base at Eglin Air Force Base will also receive aircraft next year. There is no change to the target dates for Initial Operating Capability, he added. That is in 2012 for the F-35A, 2013 for the F-35B, and 2015 for the F-35C.