Lockheed Martin and the US Department of Defense (DoD) have reached an agreement in principle for the eight low-rate initial production (LRIP 8) batch of F-35 Lightning II aircraft.

Scheduled to be finalised in the coming weeks, the contract covers production of 43 F-35 fighters, including 19 F-35A, six F-35B and four F-35C fighters for the US military.

The contract also includes first two F-35As for Israel, the initial four F-35As for Japan, two F-35As for Norway, two F-35As for Italy, and four F-35B jets for the UK. Funding for manufacturing-support equipment and ancillary mission tools will also be covered in the agreement.

F-35 programme executive officer lieutenant general, Chris Bogdan, said: "Today’s agreement is representative of the programme’s ongoing maturation.

"Once production of LRIP 8 aircraft is completed, more than 200 F-35s will be in operation by eight nations."

UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon added: "These aircraft will form part of the first UK-based squadron of F-35s, which will take up station at RAF Marham in 2018."

While exact cost details are not scheduled to be released until the contract is finalised, the average unit price for LRIP 8’s all three F-35 variants is claimed to be approximately 3.6% lower than the previous batch.

Lockheed Martin F-35 Program general manager Lorraine Martin said: "Working together with our suppliers, we are making steady progress in reducing F-35 costs.

"Today’s agreement is representative of the programme’s ongoing maturation."

"While there will always be room for improvement, the results of the LRIP 8 negotiations and initiatives like the Blueprint for Affordability are indicative of our shared commitment to ensuring affordability."

Leveraging upfront investments from Lockheed, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, the Blueprint for Affordability was launched earlier this year. Its aim was to reduce F-35’s price to the equivalent of today’s fourth generation fighters by 2020. The cost savings from this initiative are expected to begin in LRIP 9.

Lockheed is under contract to supply 166 F-35s as part of LRIPs 1-7. It has delivered 115 F-35s, including test aircraft from its production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, as of 24 October.

To date, the US and allied forces have announced plans to procure more than 3,100 F-35 fighters over the duration of the programme.

Image: A F-35C joint strike fighter conducts a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay. Photo: courtesy of Andy Wolfe.

Defence Technology