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Lockheed Martin has been awarded an $18m modification contract from the US Department of Defense (DoD) for the maintenance and operation of the F-35 aircraft Australia, Canada, United Kingdom Reprogramming Laboratory (ACURL) located in Florida.

Under the contract, Lockheed will support all ACURL systems, including consumables for the F-35 aircraft. The contract is expected to be completed by February 2020.

Last month, Lockheed was awarded an additional contract to move the ACURL from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics base in Fort Worth, Texas to the Elgin Air Force Base in Florida.

The contract, worth $7.5m, was awarded to Lockheed to support activities for the F-35 ACURL system, such as packing, shipping, installation, integration, and testing of equipment.

The contracting activity for both modification contracts is the Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland.

Existing issues with F-35 aircraft

The modification contract comes just weeks after the US DoD criticised the F-35 aircraft, suggesting in a report obtained by Bloomberg that the flight service life of older F-35s could be “as low as 2,100” hours, almost four times shorter than the expected service life of 8,000 hours. This means that some F-35 aircraft could be out of service by as soon as 2026.

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In response, a Lockheed Martin spokesperson told Air Force Technology: “The F-35B has completed full-scale durability testing to 16,000 hours.

“Planned modifications and fleet management of the early contract F-35B aircraft will ensure that they meet the 8,000-hour service life requirement, and aircraft delivering today incorporate these design changes in the build process to ensure they’ll meet 8,000 hours or more.”

“The F-35B has completed full-scale durability testing to 16,000 hours.”

According to Business Insider, acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan criticised the F-35 programme in an off-camera Pentagon briefing last Tuesday.

Responding to claims of possible bias against Lockheed, former Boeing executive Shanahan said: “Am I still wearing a Boeing hat? I think that’s just noise. I’m biased towards performance. I am biased toward giving taxpayers their money’s worth. The F-35 unequivocally, I can say, has a lot of opportunity for more performance.”