The US Department of Defense (DoD) has signed an agreement in principle with Lockheed Martin for the lots 6 and 7 low-rate initial production (LRIP) contracts for the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft.
Signed following six months of negotiations, the agreement includes the supply of 71 fighters with reduced pricing that will enable the Pentagon to acquire all originally planned aircraft despite budget sequestration.
Even though the cost details are scheduled to be released after finalisation of both contracts, the unit prices for all three variants of LRIP-6 are expected to be approximately 4% lower than the previous contract.
An additional 4% reduction is likely to be observed in LRIP-7 aircraft unit prices, which represents an overall 8% reduction from the LRIP-5 contract signed in December 2012.
Calling the contract a fair deal for both the company and the government, F-35 program executive officer lieutenant general Chris Bogdan said: ''There is still work to be done, but these agreements are proof the cost arrow is moving in the right direction. We will continue to work with industry to identify areas for savings in future production contracts."
Lockheed Martin F-35 vice-president and general manager Lorraine Martin said the agreement reaffirms collective JPO/LM commitment to conduct LRIP-6 and -7 negotiations in an efficient manner using the experience achieved from the LRIP-5 contract.
''We know how critical aircraft production is to meeting our services' initial operational capability dates, beginning with the Marine Corps in 2015, and we're committed to making that happen,'' Martin said.
The contracts also cover the first F-35s for Australia, Italy, Norway, and the fourth aircraft for the UK, alongside funding for production of support equipment and ancillary mission equipment.
However, the agreement will not cover propulsion systems, which will be supplied by Pratt & Whitney, that is currently negotiating the LRIP-6 engine contract with the government.
LRIP-6 and LRIP-7 deliveries involving 36 and 35 US and allied aircraft are scheduled to commence in the middle of 2014 and 2015 respectively.
Image: USAF's first F-35 Lightning II aircraft during its flight. Photo: courtesy of staff sgt. Joely Santiago.