The F-35 fighter is way too expensive, and the Pentagon is pissed

The Pentagon is taking a firmer grip of the F-35 budget-cutting controls in an attempt to trim down costs in the billion-dollar joint strike fighter program.

The Pentagon has determined that Lockheed Martin’s internal cost-cutting program — the Blueprint for Affordability — doesn’t go deep enough into the supply chain to smaller companies involved in building the F-35 Lightning II. The new effort to trim costs was first reported by the Wall Street Journal Oct. 9.

As a result, over the summer, the Pentagon’s F-35 program office decided not to agree to a contract extension with Lockheed and then last month simply awarded the company a $60 million contract to pursue additional efficiency measures that also gave the government more oversight, the newspaper reported.

Photo from F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office

Photo from F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office

Using a contract instead of an agreement among the companies “provides the government with greater insights into the cost-saving efforts,” according to a statement from the Pentagon’s F-35 program office.

Often called the most expensive weapons program in US history, the F-35 is being assembled at the company’s sprawling Fort Worth plant. The Pentagon’s actions come after the defense industry giant hired hundreds of workers at big job fairs in Fort Worth this summer to prepare to increased production of the aircraft. Lockheed has said it plans to add 1,800 workers.

Earlier this year, Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson told then-President-elect Trump that she was personally committed to drive down the cost of the F-35 program after Trump said it was “out of control.” He pledged to trim billions of dollars on military contracts once he was in office.

Lockheed doesn’t believe the Pentagon’s actions will impact its efforts to cut costs.

CG-1, the ground test article for the Lockheed Martin F-35 carrier variant, is positioned for its final drop test at Vought Aircraft Industries in Dallas, Tx. Photo courtesy of Vought Aircraft Industries

CG-1, the ground test article for the Lockheed Martin F-35 carrier variant, is positioned for its final drop test at Vought Aircraft Industries in Dallas, Tx. Photo courtesy of Vought Aircraft Industries

“The government’s decision to fund this next phase of cost-reduction initiatives is a testament to their confidence in our ability to deliver the cost savings, based on the success of the original Blueprint for Affordability projects,” Jeff Babione, Lockheed’s F-35 general manager, told the Wall Street Journal.

Lockheed and its industry partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems announced their plan in 2014 to trim costs by agreeing to invest $170 million over two years on new materials and processes, with Lockheed spending the most.

The Fort Worth plant employs about 14,000 workers, with roughly 8,800 working on the F-35. Hiring of additional workers will stretch out through 2020, company officials said. Last year, Lockheed built about 50 F-35s and plans call for production to increase to about 160 a year by 2019.

This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.