On November 19, Lockheed Martin received a $3.5 billion contract modification to build 31 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters for the fourth low-rate initial production (LRIP) batch. Together with earlier long-lead funding, this brings the contract value for LRIP-4 to $3.9 billion. The batch comprises 10 F-35A CTOL aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, 16 F-35B STOVL aircraft for the Marine Corps, four F-35C CV aircraft for the Navy and a single F-35B for the UK, despite that nation having recently changed its requirements to the F-35C. There is also an option for a single F-35A for the Netherlands. The three previous LRIP contracts also covered 31 aircraft, the first three of which have left the Fort Worth, Texas production facility.
In the flight-test arena, the program notched some important firsts in November. On November 5, F-35B BF-4 flew for the first time with the Block 1 software that is the basic building block for operational software loads. This iteration had been flying since May in the Boeing 737 Cooperative Avionics Testbed. BF-4 flew the JSF’s 500th test flight on November 18 from Patuxent River.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has raised a knotty issue concerning its F-35Cs, namely that of engine resupply. The current engine shipping system is too large to fit through the cargo ramp doors of either the C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery aircraft or the V-22 Osprey. Furthermore, the packed engine modules are too heavy to be hoisted from ship-to-ship during under way replenishment for Nimitz-class vessels. The latter is not a problem for the forthcoming Ford-class ships, while low-profile systems are being studied to solve the air transportability issue.