First F-35s Arrive for Training, While Senator McCain Presses on Costs and Dutch Defer Deliveries

 - July 25, 2011, 4:40 AM
The first F-35A for the “schoolhouse” arrived at Eglin AFB in Florida on July 14. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The first two production Lockheed Martin F-35s for operational training have been delivered to Eglin AFB, Florida, about one year behind schedule. F-35As AF-9 and AF-8, the first deliveries from low-rate initial production (LRIP) Lot 2, flew to the Florida base on July 14 and 20, respectively.

Two F-35As were produced in LRIP Lot 1, but they were diverted to flight-test duties and delivered to Edwards AFB, California, earlier this year. A total of 59 F-35A/B/Cs will be based at Eglin to train pilots and maintainers from the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and export countries. A total of $400 million has been spent on F-35 training facilities at the base.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, revealed the extent of cost overruns on the early LRIP aircraft. The first 28 production aircraft from LRIP Lots 1 through 3 would cost the Pentagon $771 million more than originally anticipated, he said. McCain is pressing for greater accountability on the F-35 and has threatened to force a vote on the floor of the Senate to end the program in 2012, if costs cannot be contained. Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney were awarded cost-plus contracts for these aircraft.

The Netherlands joined Norway in deferring F-35 deliveries. Having bought single aircraft in LRIP Lots 3 and 4, the Dutch will buy no more F-35As until LRIP Lot 11 in 2017, a three-year delay on its previous plans. Norway will order its first aircraft in LRIP 8 (2014) as planned, but only four instead of eight, and has deferred all 12 that it was due to buy in LRIP 9 (2015). Deliveries follow two years after placing an order.

According to the latest production plan crafted last November, Australia (two aircraft) and Italy (four) plan to buy their first aircraft next year, in LRIP Lot 6.

Turkey plans to buy its first six F-35As in 2013 and the UK is scheduled to buy its first seven F-35Cs the same year, having bought three F-35Bs in LRIP Lots 3 and 4.

Canada expects to begin buying in 2014, and Denmark in 2016, although the latter is still formally evaluating alternatives.

Israel has ordered 19 F-35As, which should compensate for deferrals by the international partners.