International partners in the F-35 JSF program are set to meet with US Defense officials in Washington next week to express their dissatisfaction at the continual slowdown in US service acquisition numbers.
Many of the partners slated to buy F-35s early in the production run – including Canada, Australia and Italy – reportedly are disappointed at the Obama Administration’s proposal to delay acquisition of as many as 179 F-35s from about five low rate initial production (LRIP) lots, leaving partners facing higher acquisition costs for their early build aircraft. The slowdown has been attributed to ‘concurrency’ issues found during testing and production, which will see early build F-35s require structural modifications at a later date in order to meet their projected life-of-type.
But concurrency issues are not new to fighter programs and industry sources indicate those found on the F-35 to date have been caught much earlier and are of an “order of magnitude” fewer than those found on previous programs such as the F/A-18A-D and F-16. They say claims by Pentagon acquisition head Frank Kendall that the slowdown is due to the concurrency issues are really a cover for budget cuts under the US’s ongoing fiscal crisis.
Australia is scheduled to take its first two F-35As from LRIP 6 which is currently being negotiated for delivery in 2014, with four more in LRIP 8 and eight F-35As in LRIP 9. These first 14 aircraft will be required in order to commence pilot and maintainer training in the US from 2015 before returning to Australia in 2017 to establish an initial operating capability (IOC). But US plans to push the 179 aircraft out beyond these lots will see a price rise of up to US$10 million per aircraft due to lower economies of scale.