It looks like the F-35 program finally has some good budget-related news to pass along. Or, at least 1/3 of the F-35 program does!
According to Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin's program manager for the F-35 program, the cost-per-plane of the Air Force's F-35A is expected to drop by about $15 million per plane by 2019. The expected price for each F-35A was expected to be around $100 million, but thanks to cost-cutting manufacturing technology and other efficiencies, the total in three years is expected at around $85 million per plane.
Due to smaller order numbers and the increased complexity and weight of the Marine Corps short take off, vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B, and the Navy's more rugged and folding-wing-equipped F-35C, neither of these variants were included in this cost projection.
Part of the reason for this lower cost is deal that gives Lockheed the ability to procure raw materials far in advance - which lowers cost - but raises some concerns from the Pentagon. The reason for the concern: ongoing maintenance and software issues that have required modifications - sometimes extensive or time consuming - to reach their current level of operational capability. If large numbers of these aircraft are purchased and then require extensive extra modification to reach their advertised capability, then the cost savings would likely be reduced or nullified completely.
We have some additional information on the various teething problems the F-35 has faced such as its dogfight vs. an F-16, the USMC F-35 software is quite limited, the F-35 helmet may be fatal for smaller pilots, and the DOT&E's laundry list of F-35 problems.
The Pentagon's F-35 Joint Program Office will likely make a decision on the block-buy for the F-35 by the summer.