Lockheed Martin delivered the 134th and last F-35 of 2019 on December 30. The number exceeded by three aircraft the joint industry/government goal set for the year of 131. It is the third successive year that the program has met its delivery targets as the industrial effort ramps up its annual production rate.
The last aircraft to be handed over in 2019 was an F-35B STOVL variant for the Marines, one of 81 F-35s to be handed over to U.S. forces during the year. Thirty aircraft were delivered to industrial partner nations during 2019, while the remaining 23 were delivered to export customers through the Foreign Military Sales program.
The 2019 figures represent a 47 percent increase over the 91 aircraft delivered in 2018, the last of which was also a Marines F-35B. In 2017 66 aircraft were handed over. The Lockheed Martin-led industrial team is targeting 141 aircraft for delivery in 2020 and is aiming to meet its peak annual rate of around 160 aircraft in 2023.
“This achievement is a testament to the readiness of the full F-35 enterprise to ramp to full-rate production, and we continue to focus on improving on-time deliveries across the entire weapons system," said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin's vice president and general manager for the F-35 program. "We have met our annual delivery targets three years in a row and continue to increase production rates, improve efficiencies, and reduce costs.”
The global fleet is due to surpass 500 aircraft early in 2020 and by the end of 2019 had amassed more than 240,000 flight hours. Training programs have qualified 975 pilots and 8,585 maintainers, and eight services have declared initial operating capability. Four of them—the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps, Royal Air Force, and Israeli Air Force—have used the F-35 in action.
As the industrial program matures with new processes and automation being applied to streamline production, the unit cost of the baseline F-35A has fallen to $77.9 million, below the price of some of the aircraft’s fourth-generation fighter rivals. Sustainment costs have also decreased year over year, and are now 35 percent down on the 2015 figure. Mission readiness rates are climbing too, standing at around 65 percent fleetwide and nearly 75 percent in the operational squadrons.