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  • UPDATE: Stovl JSF-B Taken Off Probation
    Posted by Michael Bruno 12:48 PM on Jan 20, 2012

    Expectations have been growing since last fall, but today might be the day that the Pentagon declares the Stovl F-35B comes off probation ... or will. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta goes to Pax River, Md., this afternoon and will address reporters and others there.

    Wall Street already is expecting the B's survival. Here are some bullet points in an overnight note to clients from Michael Lewis of Lazard Capital Markets:
    • Positive. This is an incremental positive, but a much longer-term improvement for both prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, and major sub, Northrop Grumman (NOC – not rated). As it stands, it appears all three variants of the F-35 will progress forward (A–Air Force; B–STOVL/Marine Corp; C–Navy).
    • Negative. While the stock will likely be up on this news, the negative is that the near-term revenue contribution on F-35 continues to deteriorate. Production rates on the B-variant will be reduced (or deferred), with as many as 175 production B’s being postponed over the next five years (out of the 340 the USMC is expected to purchase). This is on top of the ~200 other F-35 aircraft that have already been moved to the right. In our view, these deferrals will certainly increase the average cost of each jet, which could place the program under even more scrutiny following the next budget submission.
    • Our LMT thesis on near-term F-35 production reductions remains on point. Our NEUTRAL rating has been based solely on our view that further F-35 reductions or deferrals were probable. By our count, we have now approached ~375 aircraft being pushed into later years and we believe there is additional risk that some more A- & C-variants could be moved out with the GFY’13 budget submission. We are maintaining our NEUTRAL rating pending better clarity into F-35 delivery / production rate stability over the Forward Years Defense Plan.
    As I said, our own Amy Butler will be there to hear whatever is said, so stay tuned for more info.

    UPDATE (1:13 p.m.): Pointing to an F-35B parked behind him, Panetta called it "absolutely vital." He further said the Pentagon must get the program right. He then lauded the Pax community for demonstrating "real progress" in testing the Stovl variant over 2011. "The Stovl variant has made - I believe and all of us believe - sufficient progress so as of today I am lifting the Stovl probation."

    Tags: ar99, JSF, tacair

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