Lockheed Martin Aeronautics delivered its 66th F-35 last week, hitting a delivery target for the year and boosting its production level by more than 40 percent compared to last year.
Lockheed is ramping up its production of the F-35 at its Fort Worth plant and plans to hire an additional 1,800 employees by 2020 to help the company hit a full production rate of 160 aircraft a year by 2020. Since January 2017, the company has hired more than 1,300 workers, many of them for the assembly line.
“Meeting our 2017 delivery commitment is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our joint government and industry team to deliver the transformational F-35 air system to the warfighter,” Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President and F-35 Program General Manager Jeff Babione said in an statement.
“The team continues to overcome program challenges and achieving this milestone gives our customers confidence that the F-35 enterprise can deliver on the increasing production quantities year-over-year,” Babione said.
Often called the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history, the F-35 is being assembled at the company’s sprawling plant in west Fort Worth. As of Friday, 265 F-35s had been delivered to the U.S. military and to international customers, the company said. More than 530 pilots have been trained to fly the multi-role jet fighter, which has already logged more than 115,000 cumulative flight hours, according to Lockheed.
Increased production of the F-35 is driving down the cost of the stealth fighter, with the price dropping 60 percent since the initial contract, Lockheed said. Several factors have contributed to that decline, including a 20 percent drop in the production time-span for each aircraft has declined 20 percent since 2015.
Earlier this year the Pentagon expressed concern about the cost of the futuristic fighter. The Pentagon has determined that Lockheed Martin’s internal cost-cutting program — the Blueprint for Affordability — doesn’t go deep enough into the supply chain to smaller companies involved in building the F-35 Lightning II.
As a result, over the summer the Pentagon’s F-35 program office decided not to agree to a contract extension with Lockheed and then simply awarded the company a $60 million contract to pursue additional efficiency measures that also gave the government more oversight.
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