The U.S.-led F-35 Joint Program Office, based near the Pentagon, will not be attending this year’s Farnborough Air Show. Vice Adm. David Venlet, the F-35 program executive officer, says he is focused on program execution instead.
The decision is notable because the U.K., the only top tier partner to the U.S. on the stealthy, single-engine fighter program, is planning to take delivery of its first F-35B only days from the show.
Engineers conduct a monitored ground-based weapons drop test on the F-35 at Edwards AFB, Calif.
credit: Lockheed Martin
Prime contractor Lockheed Martin plans to provide a 90-minute briefing for the media. The topic is not a program update or overview, but to interact with three notable F-35 pilots. The company is clearly hoping to highlight the test program to date and the potential F-35 capabilities in the briefing rather than deal with thorny questions about customer commitments and pricing (LRIP 5 negotiations are still ongoing – and mum’s the word about them). Meanwhile, the Dutch have signaled they are pulling out of the program on the eve of the show, throwing a curve ball to the partnership.
A major press focus on the F-35 here would be a bit awkward for London. After affirming its commitment to the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing F-35B for years to replace its AV-8B Harriers, the U.K. abruptly switched allegiance to the C-variant last year – only to switch back to the B once it found the C did not fit with its sea-basing strategy.
Some sources close to the program suggest the U.K. Ministry of Defense would rather soft-pedal on F-35 during Farnborough this year owing, in part, to its own embarrassment over waffling. In the meantime, the government is said to be focusing heavily on the show in supporting the Eurofighter Typhoon, of which BAE – a top British industrial player – has a key role.
The British spotlight will, however, shine on the F-35 the week after the Farnborough Air Show. Top British and U.S. defense officials are slated to attend the delivery ceremony for the first U.K. F-35B July 19 at prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth final assembly facility.