Despite government reports to the contrary, the average unit recurring flyaway cost of the F-35 should still be below $60 million, according to Lockheed Martin officials. “If we can secure adequate production volume, the acquisition cost will be about the same as that for a similarly equipped F-18 or an F-16 Block 60,” said chairman and CEO Bob Stevens. This is about half of the cost predicted recently by the U.S. government, in the wake of program delays and a revision of the development milestones. But a Lockheed Martin spokesman told AIN that the official, independently produced unit cost predictions “make sense in the context of the estimating models used, but they make less sense when applied to the F-35.” Stevens noted that negotiations for low-rate initial production Lot 4, now reaching a conclusion, “will likely price at 20 percent below” the independent estimates. The spokesman told AIN that the government's opening offer in these negotiations is “40 percent less than their own estimate of what the airplanes will cost.”
Meanwhile, the flight-test program is finally accelerating, after the glacial pace of previous years. Stevens reported a total of 113 test flights so far this year, with a goal of 396 by the end of December. “We are stressing and testing,” he said. AIN will report in detail on the F-35 program in our opening edition at the Farnborough International airshow next month.