Pentagon Orders 78 New F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters Jet

Pentagon Orders 78 New F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters Jet
An F-35A Lightning II taxis during Red Flag 20-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Pentagon just placed an order for 78 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a $4.7 billion agreement that will provide planes for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.

Lockheed Martin was awarded a $4.7 billion contract modification for 78 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, according to a March 31 contract announcement by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

The contract includes 48 conventional takeoff and landing F-35As for the US Air Force, 14 short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs for the Marine Corps, and 16 carrier-borne F-35C stealth fighters.

Work is expected to be complete by March 2023, according to the DoD statement.

Delivery of the combat aircraft is expected by March 2023, with work being carried out at sites across the US including California, Florida, Maryland and New Hampshire. Approximately 9% of the work will be carried out in the UK by BAE Systems at its manufacturing and assembly facility in Samlesbury.

USAF and USN procurement funds for FY2020 are financing the programme.

The Air Force plans to purchase 1,763 F-35As to replace the F-16 Fighting Falcon, A-10 Thunderbolt, and likely the F-15C Eagle in some missions. The Marine Corps is on the hook for 353 B versions of the jets to replace the AV-8B Harrier jump jet fighter and 67 C variants to replace Marine Corps F/A-18C Hornet fighters that deploy on U.S. Navy carriers.

The U.S. Navy will buy 260 F-35Cs, carrier optimized aircraft with strengthened landing gear to handle rough carrier landings and a slightly larger wing. Eventually, the Navy plans to have every aircraft carrier go to sea with four strike fighter squadrons, two equipped with F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and two with F-35Cs.

At the same time, the Marine Corps is signaling it may not want 420 of the new jets after all. The service recently announced it would cut the number of F-35Bs per squadron from 16 to 10, and claimed this week it does not have enough pilots to fly the new jets.

Marine Corps Commandant David Berger, quoted in Defense News, says the service will continue to buy jets according to schedule but warned that number may “adjust.” In this time of fiscal uncertainty, there’s only one direction that number adjusts—downward.

In the meantime the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) says F-35 aircraft have 883 “unresolved design flaws,” with “no plan for correcting over 160 of them.” The F-35 currently has nine “Category 1” flaws, flaws that “may cause death, severe injury, or severe occupational illness; may cause loss or major damage to a weapon system; critically restricts the combat readiness capabilities of the using organization; or result in a production line stoppage.”

The F-35 program office did not respond to POGO’s request for information on how the Category 1 flaws were being addressed, and the program is considering reclassifying some of them to a lower status.

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