The U.S. Department of Defense has reached an agreement in principle with Lockheed Martin to purchase a fifth block of F-35 jets, ending a year-long negotiation that threatened relations between the joint program office and the contractor.
The agreement covers the manufacture of 32 F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters, along with support equipment and instrumentation.
The 32 planes are broken down into 22 F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing variants used by the Air Force; three F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variants for the Marines; and seven F-35C carrier variants requested by the Navy. All the planes will be produced at Lockheed’s Fort Worth, Texas, facilities.
“We remain committed to working with our government and international customers, and we continue to see excellent production performance,” said Orlando Carvalho, Lockheed Martin F-35 program general manager, in a statement issued Friday.
Vice Adm. Dave Venlet, the head of the F-35 program, said in the statement, “It’s been a long journey, but I’m pleased we’ve achieved an agreement that is beneficial to the government and Lockheed Martin.”
“The LRIP-5 agreement will end the year on a positive note and sets the table for the program to move forward with improving business timelines for the greater good of all the nations partnered with us,” added Venlet.
Price negotiations lasted more than a year, creating tensions over a program that Pentagon officials view as key to replacing an aging fleet of jet fighters. News reports put the price tag for Friday’s announcement at about $4 billion.
In September, F-35 deputy program manager Gen. Christopher Bogdan expressed frustration that the Pentagon and the company had not been able to complete a deal for the fifth block of fighters.
As part of his Sept. 17 speech at an Air Force Association-sponsored conference, Bogdan described the broken relationship between the Pentagon and Lockheed “the biggest threat to this program today.”