October 25, 2012
Credit: Credit: JSF Joint Program Office
Lockheed Martin on Wednesday said it was making “great progress” on the F-35 fighter jet program, with F-35 deliveries exceeding those of F-16 fighters and C-130J transport planes combined for the first time in the third quarter.
Chief Operating Officer Chris Kubasik, who takes over as CEO next month, said there were 94 F-35 jets in various stages of production at Lockheed plants in Fort Worth, Texas and Marietta, Georgia, plus a final assembly plant in Italy run by Alenia, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica SpA.
He said the program, restructured three times in recent years to slow production and work out lingering technical challenges, had completed nearly 1,000 test flights in total. Test flights were 25 percent ahead of plan as of September.
“This program is making great progress and it really has a lot of momentum,” Kubasik told reporters on Wednesday during a discussion about Lockheed’s third-quarter earnings.
He said labor costs were coming down faster on the F-35 program than any previous fighter jet program in over 40 years. Lockheed is on track to hit its target unit “flyaway” cost, excluding development, of $67 million in fiscal 2012 dollars by 2018, he added.
The program was in the limelight again last month, when the Pentagon’s future F-35 program manager, Major General Christopher Bogdan, said ties between Lockheed and the government were the “worst” he’d ever seen.
Kubasik said Bogdan visited Lockheed’s mammoth Fort Worth plant last week for what officials described as a “very productive” visit. This week, the new Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh, toured the plant.
Chief Executive Bob Stevens, who retires at the end of the year, said the F-35 program was challenging from the very beginning since its three variants will replace 10 warplanes now in service. He said Lockheed was working closely with the government to resolve remaining challenges.
“We will do everything that we must do to have very high quality relations and get everything about this program right because the stakes for the country and for our friends and allies are just too damned high to set the bar anywhere else,” Stevens told analysts during a separate call.