Pentagon Sees Faster Move on Next F-35 Contract With Lockheed

(Bloomberg) -- Pentagon weapons buyer Ellen Lord said the Defense Department and Lockheed Martin Corp. are speeding up efforts to complete the contract for the next and largest order of F-35 jets.

“We’re making very significant progress,” Lord, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, said in an interview late last week. “We are picking up the pace with Lot 12 and we plan to do the same with Lot 13.” The 12th contract would be the largest to date with at least 250 aircraft.

Lord wants to prevent a repeat of the previous two F-35 program contracts, which took more than a year each to complete. Lockheed and the Pentagon finished negotiations in late September on an $11.5 billion contract for 141 F-35s, about 14 months after a down payment of $5.5 billion in July 2017.

Negotiations for the 10th contract, a roughly $8.2 billion job for 90 jets, also went on for over a year. In contrast, at least one set of recent F-35 briefing slides provided to Lord indicates a contract award for the 12th batch of jets could be completed as early as next month.

Flaws Remain

The stealthy next-generation F-35 is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons system. It has long been plagued by production delays and questions over its long-term costs. Although the Pentagon and Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed continue to wrestle with resolving more than 900 deficiencies of varying severity on the aircraft, including flaws in its complex software, more than 320 F-35s are already operating from 15 bases worldwide.

Lockheed has been “late to contract requirements” in providing 209 of 308 of the planes to U.S. and international customers through June 30, the Defense Contract Management Agency said in August.

Even as the Pentagon seeks to accelerate contracts, the F-35 program has yet to complete year-long realistic testing mandated by Congress to assess its combat effectiveness against the most stressing threats. Those tests are scheduled to start this month.

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