Lockheed Official: F-35 Empowers Fourth-Generation Fighters
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter is not only bringing new capabilities to the warfighter, but is empowering older strike fighters such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18E/F Hornet, according to the head of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program.
“The F-35 is transforming the way our pilots fly, fight and win,” Jeff Babione, outgoing executive vice president and general manager of the Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program, told reporters March 5. “Not just fourth [generation] to fifth [generation]. The F-35 makes fourth-generation fighters even more powerful. … Everybody wants the information that the F-35 has.”
Babione, who is taking over as head of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, was referring to the F-35’s sensors and data fusion capabilities that can provide more track data with more accuracy and relevance to other platforms.
Babione updated reporters on the status of the F-35 program, noting that 280 F-35s have been delivered to date, including 66 delivered in 2017. The F-35 flies from 15 bases, including, most recently, Misawa, Japan. The Israeli government declared initial operational capability (IOC) for its F-35Is in December.
This week, the Marine Corps’ F-35B went to sea for operations with a Marine Expeditionary Unit on an amphibious assault ship. The 3F software was released for use in February. The United Kingdom’s F-35Bs are scheduled to reach IOC later this year.
The F-35’s system development and demonstration phase is on track for completion this year, for the F-35B in March and the F-35C in May. The initial Block 4 capabilities already have started flight tests at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Lockheed Martin plans eventually to reach a production rate of 160 to 170 F-35s per year. The company will deliver 90 F-35s this year.
Babione said the company was “two years away from getting to facilitization for full rate [production].”
Low-rate production batches of the F-35 are planned to be part of a block buy, which, Babione said, will achieve $400 million in savings.
“We need to start looking at a five-year multiyear contract,” Babione said, noting that it would be a huge leverage for cost reduction.
Lockheed Martin is working to drive down costs. One method is to reduce the fuel required to start the engine.
Babione said that the company is not satisfied with the availability of the F-35 on the flight line, particularly with regard with the supply of parts (the S-rate).
“We are not where we need to be on the S-rate part of the program,” he said.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program has 1,400 suppliers.
“We compete some part of the aircraft multiple times every year,” he said.
Babione noted that with a block buy, buying parts ahead of the demand would be more economical.
He also noted that half of the defects of the aircraft are with the low-observable skin, for example, with an inadvertent scratch in the finish.