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Lockheed Martin, Pentagon Strike New F-35 Deal at Lowest Prices Yet

Three F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, fly in formation during fixed-wing aerial refueling training over eastern California, Aug. 27. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Raquel Barraza)
Three F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, fly in formation during fixed-wing aerial refueling training over eastern California, Aug. 27. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Raquel Barraza)

Prices on the next crop of F-35s will be 5 to 11 percent less than previous rates, Defense Department officials announced Friday.

The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin have agreed on a deal for 141 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. Ninety-one of the new aircraft will go to the U.S. military, while 28 are for international partners and 22 others are slated for foreign military sales, according to a statement from the F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin.

The $11.5 billion contract is for 102 A-variant of the stealth fighter jet used by the Air Force, 25 of the B-variant used by the Marine Corps, and 14 of the C-variant used by the Navy.

Friday's deal marks the lowest per-aircraft price in program history.

"Driving down cost is critical to the success of this program," Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the F-35 program executive officer, said in the statement. "... We are delivering on our commitment to get the best price for taxpayers and warfighters."

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The Navy will see the biggest price drop for its new F-35Cs under the deal, compared to previous sales. The 14 new aircraft-carrier variants of the Lightning II will cost $107.7 million each -- an 11.1 percent drop from the $121.2 million price tag on the last batch.

The Marine Corps will see the next-best savings on its short-takeoff and landing variant. That version, which just completed its first combat strike on a Taliban target in Afghanistan, will cost $115.5 million per aircraft, a 5.7 percent drop from the $122.4 million under the last deal.

The Air Force will pay $89.2 million for each of its new F-35As -- a 5.4 percent drop from the $94.3 million price tag per aircraft under the last deal. This is the 11th consecutive year the price per unit on that variant has fallen, according to the announcement.

Lockheed officials first announced that they'd reached this deal with the Pentagon during last month's Farnborough International Airshow.

The costs and delays associated with the F-35 program have long faced scrutiny.

Winter told reporters earlier this year that Lockheed was moving too slowly on bringing down its prices. President Donald Trump has called the program costs "out of control," and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have pressed military leaders to explain production delays and maintenance shortfalls.

Pentagon and Lockheed officials stand by the aircraft's capabilities, though. The F-35's stealth technology, supersonic speed and weapons capacity make it the most "advanced fighter aircraft ever built," according to the statement. Its ability to collect and analyze data allows service members to more safely execute their missions, it adds.

Prices should continue to fall, as Lockheed ramps up production to meet the military's requirements in coming years, added Greg Ulmer, F-35 vice president and general manager at Lockheed.

"We are on track to reduce the cost of the F-35A to $80 million by 2020," he said, "which is equal to or less than legacy aircraft, while providing a major leap in capability."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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