FORT WORTH (CBS 11 News) – Lockheed Martin officials, dignitaries from Washington D.C. and the United Kingdom and military leaders from both countries met in Fort Worth Thursday for the transfer of the first F-35B Joint Strike Fighter to one of its international partners on the project.
The UK has invested $2 billion in the development of the aircraft.
The first international delivery of a Joint Strike Fighter is a milestone not just for the military, but also for the economies of Fort Worth and England.
“The periods of peak production is likely to sustain 25,000 jobs in the UK, across the supply chain,” UK Defense Secretary Philip Hammond explained.
Issues with one of the crafts biggest selling points, technology, delayed F-35B production and almost tripled the projected cost.
International confidence and the ability to fund original orders for the aircraft has wavered. Australia is considering the purchase of other planes because of the expected long delays for F-35B delivery.
Belgium is considering pooling with other countries just to afford fewer planes than originally planned. The Netherlands is considering reducing their planned purchases as well.
Ironically, as orders go down, the cost per airplane goes up.
“Ultimately it will have a moderate impact on cost,” Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics for the U.S. Department of Defense Frank Kendall said. “The reason we have so many partners, of course, is to get a higher volume of production.”
Kendall said as major technological hurdles are cleared production will ramp up and stabilize costs.
The F-35B the UK is taking has had the most technical trouble. Its technology allows for short and vertical takeoffs and landings and was by its very nature considered the most challenging of three designs.
At one point, the Ministry of Defense decided to change its options from F-35B’s to the U.S. Navy’s F-35C’s. The simpler design requires the use of catapults and ‘traps’ for takeoffs and landings on carriers. The decision would have required the MoD to change the designs of its aircraft carriers already under construction, to add the equipment to launch and recover the F-35C.
But studies found the change would have been even more expensive than acquisition of the F-35B.
Program managers are hoping the UK can smoothly test the jet and develop a training program that will influence other countries — and ease concerns about the aircraft.
“And then use that to share the love with the other international partners of, ‘this is how we got to where we are. Here’s a model that you can perhaps use.’ and hopefully that will smooth the way and make the whole process a lot slicker,” RAF Group Captain Harvey Smyth said optimistically. Smyth admits to being completely sold on the advanced technology and capability of the F-35B.
Lockheed has assembled and is preparing to deliver the UK’s second plane next month.
Lockheed workers in Fort Worth know the world will be watching how the first international Joint Strike Fighter performs.
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