As the “quarterback for the joint force,” the F-35 provides new transformational capabilities that will fundamentally change the way our nation’s military operates around the globe. More than a fighter jet, the F-35’s ability to collect, analyze and share data is a powerful force multiplier that enhances all airborne, sea and ground-based assets in the battlespace, while ensuring our war fighters can execute their mission and return home safe. With stealth technology, advanced sensors, weapons capacity and range, the F-35 is the most lethal, survivable, connected and interoperable fighter aircraft ever built.
The F-35 program plays a central role in our National Defense Strategy, which calls for building a more lethal joint force, strengthening global alliances and reforming business practices to enhance affordability. The F-35 weapons system is a multimission, next-generation strike fighter that provides our war fighters unmatched, game-changing technology in the domains of sensor fusion, stealth and interoperability. The unique F-35 partnership brings together three U.S. services (the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy) with our eight partner nations (the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway), and four Foreign Military Sales customers (Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Belgium) — each of whom are integral to the planning and execution of the complete F-35 program.
The F-35’s projected service life extends out for more than 50 years (2070), and to ensure the aircraft remains combat-ready and ahead of adversaries, the enterprise will continually deliver enhanced capability to the war fighter with a focus on affordability and speed.
The F-35 Joint Program Office’s strategic focus remains on accountable affordability and timely delivery of required capabilities. To that end, the JPO is leading a continued transformation of the F-35 enterprise from a developmental and initial production environment to a full-rate production and continuous modernization environment, while sustaining the substantial growing global operations.
In 2018, the F-35 program completed the most comprehensive, rigorous and safest developmental flight test program in aviation history. More than 9,200 sorties, 17,000 flight hours and 65,000 test points were achieved to verify the design, durability, software, sensors, weapons capability and performance for all three F-35 variants. In 2019, F-35 flight testing continues in support of phased capability improvements and modernization of the F-35 air system. This agile framework, known as “continuous capability development and delivery,” provides timely, affordable, incremental war-fighting capability improvements to maintain air dominance against evolving threats to the United States and our allies.
More than 340 F-35s are currently in the global fleet, and by the end of 2019 there will be almost 500 air systems delivered. Production ramp-up will continue as operational testing concludes in the summer of 2019 and the program enters a full-rate production decision in the fall. To prepare for this major production ramp, production experts from across the United States government are working with our industry partners to lean out production process flow, increase production quality, and deliver parts on time and at reduced cost. To achieve these efficiencies, the program has incorporated a number of performance initiatives and incentives across the entire supply chain to support F-35 production lines in Italy, Japan and the United States.
Driving down cost is critical to the success of this program, and for the 11th consecutive year, the cost of an F-35A was lowered. The Lot 11 F-35A unit price, including aircraft, engine and fee, is $89.2 million; this represents a 5.4 percent reduction from previous lot aircraft. Unit cost for the F-35B and F-35C went down to their lowest costs to date. As production ramps up, we are working with industry to drive further cost reductions. We are on track to reduce the cost of the F-35A to less than $80 million by 2020 — which is equal to or less than legacy aircraft, while providing a major leap in war-fighting capability.
F-35 global alliances and capabilities continue to grow. By the end of 2018, the United Kingdom and Italy will declare initial operational capability with their F-35B and F-35A aircraft, respectively. In 2019, the Netherlands, Turkey and Korea will receive their first aircraft arrivals in country. Additionally, the U.S. Navy, Norway, Japan and Korea are planning to declare initial operational capability in 2019. These major milestones require measured levels of sustainment, availability and operational readiness for the F-35 fleet. We are in the midst of a major growing phase in the program, as our three U.S. services, six of our eight current partners and three of our four FMS teammates will be operating aircraft in country by 2021.
To support the F-35 global fleet and the secretary of defense’s directive to attain an 80 percent mission-capability rate by the end of 2019, government, international allies and industry representatives are increasing spare part supplies, accelerating depot activations, and implementing reliability and maintainability improvement plans to ensure maintainers get the parts they need, when they need them, to sustain F-35s more efficiently. To speed up repairs and lower costs, we are leveraging government capabilities at fleet readiness and air logistics centers, and we are empowering flight line workers with greater authority to streamline standard maintenance actions. These combined sustainment and logistic actions and initiatives will improve overall F-35 readiness for the war fighter.
The year 2018 has been a very good one, with 2019 poised to surpass those accomplishments. However, the challenges to affordability and timely capability delivery remain. The threats and adversaries we face today are more complex and advanced than ever before. The F-35’s success is of vital importance to our national security.
The F-35 forms the backbone of U.S. air combat superiority for decades to come. It enhances our international alliances and is a linchpin for future coalition operations. It is a big, complex, rapidly growing and accelerating program that is moving in the right direction. Our steadfast focus is on the continued advancement, development, delivery and sustainment of an affordable, global F-35 weapons system that supports the peace and, if called upon to do so, swiftly and decisively wins the fight every time.
Vice Adm. Mat Winter is the program executive officer for the U.S.-led F-35 Joint Program Office.