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F-35 Goes Into Full Production

AEROSPACE: Several Local Firms Support the Program

SAN DIEGO – The Pentagon moved the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter aircraft from its development phase into full-rate production, announcing its decision earlier this month (March 12). The decision has ripple effects locally.

Prime contractor Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) assembles the aircraft in Fort Worth, Texas but gets components from all over the United States and abroad. Several components come from San Diego businesses.

San Diego-based Cubic Corporation produces electronics for flight training. Its P5 Combat Training System enables real-time, live monitoring of the F-35 on training flights. The electronics also record mission data for post-mission training analysis.

GKN Aerospace in El Cajon and other locations manufactures several complex aluminum, titanium and composite structures for the F-35’s airframe as well as its engine.

Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) produces electronics for communication, navigation and identification in its Rancho Carmel facility in San Diego’s northern suburbs. It puts an emphasis on conserving size, weight and power.

$1.7 Trillion to Buy, Operate and Sustain

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program remains the Defense Department’s most expensive weapon system program, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

Government officials estimate that it will cost more than $1.7 trillion to buy, operate, and sustain the aircraft. The Defense Department plans to acquire 2,470 aircraft.

Lockheed Martin has so far delivered more than 990 of the aircraft to U.S. services, cooperative program partners and Foreign Military Sales customers. There are three varieties of the aircraft: one with conventional takeoff and landing capability, built for the U.S. Air Force; one with short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) capability built for the U.S. Marine Corps; and a tailhook-equipped aircraft for the U.S. Navy, suitable for carrier landings.

In December, the GAO reported the F-35 program has yet to install Technology Refresh 3 (TR-3), a $1.64 billion suite of upgraded hardware and software technologies, on production aircraft. The services will not accept aircraft until TR-3 is installed.

The last F-35 contract issued by the Pentagon that mentions San Diego was awarded in December. The $67.9 million deal with Lockheed Martin was a modification to a previously awarded deal, adding scope to procure material and labor to establish initial depot repair capabilities for F-35s at various locations across the United States. Some 5% of the work, worth approximately $3.4 million, was expected to go to the greater San Diego region. Work was scheduled to be completed in 2028.

“This is a major achievement for the F-35 Program,” said William LaPlante, under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment. “This decision—backed by my colleagues in the department—highlights to the services, F-35 cooperative program partners, and Foreign Military Sales customers that the F-35 is stable and agile, and that all statutory and regulatory requirements have been appropriately addressed. The F-35 Program is the premier system that drives interoperability with our allies and partners while contributing to the integrated deterrence component of our National Defense Strategy.

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