Cost of pricey F-35 fighter jets to come down next year

Cost of pricey F-35 fighter jets to come down next year

In deal with Pentagon, manufacturer of the fifth-generation stealth aircraft Lockheed Martin agrees to lower price to under $80 million

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Two new F-35 fighter jets land at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel from the United States on July 14, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
Two new F-35 fighter jets land at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel from the United States on July 14, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The American manufacturer of the F-35 fighter jet on Wednesday announced it would reduce the price of the most common model of the stealth aircraft to below $80 million starting next year as part of an agreement with the Pentagon.

A spokesperson for defense contractor Lockheed Martin confirmed that this would include the version purchased by Israel, the F-35I, known by the Israel Defense Forces as the “Adir.”

Each aircraft initially cost upwards of $100 million, but the price has come down as more of the jets were manufactured in light of decreasing production costs.

Lockheed Martin has long said that it will eventually bring down the cost of the F-35 to below $80 million, but initially projected that this would take at least another year to accomplish.

“With the F-35A unit cost now below $80 million… we were able to exceed our long-standing cost reduction commitment one year earlier than planned,” said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin vice president responsible for the F-35 program.

Ulmer credited the early price change to “smart acquisition strategies, strong government-industry partnership and a relentless focus on quality and cost reduction.”

Lockheed Martin produces three main variants of the F-35 fighter jet, the A, B and C. The F-35A is the most common model, built for normal use by air forces around the world. (Israel’s F-35I is largely indistinguishable from the F-35A.)

The next group, or lot, of F-35A jets, to be delivered by Lockheed Martin in late 2019 and early 2020, will cost $82.4 million per aircraft, the company said. In the lot after that one, jets will cost $79.2 million, and the following lot will have a price tag of $77.9 million, according to Lockheed Martin.

F-35B fighter jets fly over a British Royal Navy aircraft carrier on September 25, 2018. (Dane Wiedmann/Lockheed Martin/Flickr)

The other two variants will be more expensive. Next year’s first lot of F-35B jets, which are able to perform vertical landings and takeoffs from short runways, will cost $108 million, then $104.8 million and $101.3 million. Beginning next year, the F-35C, which is specially designed to be launched with a catapult from aircraft carriers, will cost $103.1 million, then $98.1 million and finally $94.4 million.

Israel has thus far agreed to purchase 50 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. The first two aircraft were delivered in December 2016, with more coming every few months in groups of twos and threes. The Israel Defense Forces has thus far said it’s received 16 F-35 fighter jets.

The remaining aircraft will be delivered through 2024 at a rate of six per year, according to Lockheed Martin.

This summer, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tehran that Israel’s F-35 fighter jets can reach “anywhere in the Middle East,” following threats against Israel in recent weeks by senior Iranian officials.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands in front of a F-35 fighter jet at the Israeli Air Force’s Nevatim base in southern Israel. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“Lately, Iran has been threatening Israel with destruction,” Netanyahu said. “It should remember that these planes can reach every place in the Middle East, including Iran, and of course also Syria.”

Last year, Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin said that Israel had used the fifth-generation fighter jet in operations in the Middle East. At the time, Norkin did not specify in which countries the aircraft had been used.

The F-35 stealth jet is not believed to have an effective range to reach Iran unassisted, but it could conduct operations there with in-air refueling, a capability possessed by Israel’s air force.

Israel is the second country after the United States to receive the F-35 from Lockheed Martin and one of the few to be allowed to modify the state-of-the-art aircraft.

The Israeli Air Force is currently wavering between purchasing more F-35s or an upgraded version of the F-15 fighter jet, which lacks some of the stealth capabilities of the F-35 but is able to carry far more and heavier munitions.

The F-35 has been lauded as a “game-changer” by the IDF, not only for its offensive and stealth capabilities, but for its ability to connect its systems with other aircraft and form an information-sharing network.

Detractors, however, balk at the development and production delays that have plagued the aircraft, as well as its high price tag.

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