F-35 program total now at $276.5 billion
By BOB COX - STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER
The Pentagon reported Friday that the total estimated cost of Lockheed Martin's F-35 joint strike fighter program has risen by $20 billion, a 7.7 percent increase in the last year.
In a quarterly "selected acquisition report," Pentagon analysts now estimate that it will cost $276.5 billion to develop three versions of the F-35 and build about 2,400 of the planes for the Air Force, Navy and Marines.
That's up from the $256 billion figure last given for the program. The total cost figures are for the lifetime of the program, which could exceed 20 years. It is the largest U.S. weapons program ever.
The Pentagon said cost increases are largely because of higher materials costs and a change in inflation expectations.
Earlier Friday, the Pentagon said that its top weapons buyer had signed off on a plan to allow Lockheed and other contractors to begin spending money for early-stage work on the first five F-35 production models.
Ken Krieg, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, approved the plan Thursday. Krieg and other senior civilian and military officials reviewed the program's progress and plans last week.
Congress included $120 million in the fiscal 2006 budget that was approved in December for F-35 contractors to buy "long lead items," such as manufacturing equipment, materials and some initial parts and assemblies.
"It's a down payment on the first five airplanes," said Kathy Crawford, spokeswoman for the F-35's program manager, Rear Adm. Steven Enewold.
The Pentagon has requested more money to build the first "low rate initial production" planes, all conventional-takeoff-and-landing versions for the U.S. Air Force, in the fiscal 2007 budget that President Bush submitted to Congress.
Enewold and other program managers had briefed Krieg on program progress. Crawford said that a critical design review team, which in February examined the work done by Lockheed and other contractors, gave the design for the Air Force version a green light.
Crawford confirmed that the first test flight of the prototype F-35, which had been expected to take place in August, is now likely to slip to early fall.
Ground testing of the F-35 prototype "is right on schedule," Lockheed spokesman John Kent said.
The first production versions of the aircraft won't be completed until 2009, by which time much flight testing using test aircraft is scheduled to have been completed.