According to Lockheed, the contract provides for “air system maintenance; pilot and maintainer training; depot activation; sustaining engineering; Automatic Logistics Information System (ALIS) support, data analytics and predictive health management; and supply chain logistics” for all U.S. and international F-35s through April 30, 2019.
Of the $1.4 billion sum, about 73 percent will be paid by the U.S. Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy, while the other 27 percent will be covered by international customers.
The cost of sustaining the F-35 has been a growing concern for leaders across the Defense Department, from F-35 joint program executive officer Vice Adm. Mat Winter to Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.
Bloomberg reported in March that the Air Force could be forced to cut as many as 590 F-35As from its 1,763 program of record should sustainment costs not improve. While Air Force leadership, including Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein, have said they have no plans to slash the program, reducing F-35 sustainment costs to that of fourth generation fighters like the F-16 remains a big priority.
Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin vice president of F-35 global sustainment, addressed the sustainment cost issue in a news release.
“We are taking aggressive actions to improve F-35 aircraft availability and reduce sustainment costs. As the sustainment system matures and the size of the operational fleet grows, we are confident we will deliver more capability at less cost than legacy aircraft,” she stated.
The company has already taken some steps to try to improve readiness and repair costs, including expanding the supply chain, buying spare parts ahead of need to boost availability and achieve economies of scale, and investing in diagnostic and data analytics technologies, it said.
So far, more than 280 F-35s have been delivered and operate from 15 bases worldwide.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.