PARIS AIR SHOW: On his way out the door, the head of Marine aviation, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, told reporters he really, really wants more F-35Bs for the Marines as soon as possible.
The current top goal is to add 24 F-35Bs to the Marine’s inventory, including four in the unfunded requirements list. Davis, a very enthusiastic backer of the B, wants a serious boost to 37. Of course, Davis is retiring in three weeks so he won’t be around to push for it. But he went public with that number, which has to mean there is some Department of Navy and Marine Corps analysis pointing to it. Such a significant boost raises questions about whether Lockheed Martin could — short of war — boost production to that level without disrupting other orders for the Air Force F-35A and Navy F-35C.
I spoke with Jeff Babione, who leads the Joint Strike Fighter program for Lockheed Martin, on the longest day of the year here. In the video above, he lays out what’s needed and details just how much money may be needed to add to the budget to make the big 450-plane Block Buy for Low Rate of Initial Production lots 12-14 a reality. The block buy, of course, is designed to provide economies of scale for the U.S., F-35 partner nations and friends and allies like Japan and Israel. For perspective, the first 11 LRIP lots put together account for 448 planes. This should help bring down the unit cost — always a politically sensitive issue, especially for partner countries — close to $80 million a plane.
To make the Block Buy a reality and smooth out production as much as possible, the Joint Program Office estimates how much it thinks is needed for advanced procurement of parts and tooling. Babione says the estimate is about $660 million should be inserted into the fiscal 2018 budget.
My prediction: Rep. Kay Granger, chair of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee and lawmaker from Fort Worth, Texas (home of Lockheed’s F-35 plant), will find a way to add that money to the budget. It’s good for her constituents, the F-35 partners are likely to support it and the longer-term goal of substantially reducing the unit cost is in just about everyone’s interest.