After protracted negotiations, Lockheed Martin reached an agreement in principle with the Pentagon for the fifth lot of low-rate initial production F-35s (LRIP-5). The company has reported new flight-test milestones for the Lightning II stealth fighter in recent weeks. But there was less good news from Canada, which is reconsidering its commitment to the F-35 on cost grounds.
Vice Admiral David Venlet, F-35 program executive officer, referred to the “long journey” toward the LRIP-5 contract, but added that production costs are decreasing while business timelines are improving. Lockheed Martin will produce 22 F-35As for the Air Force, three F-35Bs for the Marine Corps and seven F-35Cs for the Navy. There are no international partner orders in LRIP-5. A total of 63 F-35s were previously contracted under LRIPs 1 through 4, of which 29 have now been delivered. The latest of these were three F-35B STOVL aircraft to MCAS Yuma on November 20, for tactical operational training by VMFA-121 squadron.
An Edwards AFB-based F-35A development aircraft made the first releases of a 1,000-pound GBU-31 (BLU-109) JDAM and an AIM-120 AMRAAM on October 16 and 19, respectively. An F-35B development aircraft dropped a 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II for the first time on December 3. All releases were from the aircraft’s internal weapons bay. Lockheed Martin also reported that an F-35A had expanded its high angle-of-attack (AoA) envelope from 20 degrees to the maximum 50 degrees. “The ability to rapidly progress to the maximum AoA indicates a sound aerodynamic and flight control system design,” the company noted. The F-35 development and production fleet has now logged more than 5,000 flight hours.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper reported that a committee of Canada’s federal cabinet had completely scrapped the country’s plan to buy F-35s, a report the Prime Minister’s office denies. However, there are plenty of indications that Canada is having second thoughts, especially since the Auditor General reported last spring an increase from $15 to $25 billion in the total cost to acquire and operate 65 aircraft over 20 years. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose told the Canadian parliament on November 22 that the government is committed to “a full evaluation of all choices.” It now seems probable that Canada will join Denmark, amongst the F-35 partner nations, in formally evaluating alternative aircraft.