Articles

The F-35 may finally be getting its act together

While the F-35 Lightning II continues its turbulent march to combat readiness, the jet's manufacturer posted better than expected quarterly revenue earnings on Tuesday.


Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon's top weapons supplier, also lifted its 2016 revenue and profit forecasts for a second time — despite significant snags in developing America's most expensive arms program.

Considered a bellwether for the US defense sector, Lockheed Martin's stock also posted  a record high of $261.37 in early trading on Tuesday. What's more, the world's largest defense contractor's shares were already up approximately 18% this year.

And all of this is great news for the troubled fifth-generation stealth fighter jet.

An F-35B from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501), flies near its base a MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina. | Lockheed Martin

"(The) consensus expectations are finally positive for the F-35 and for improvement in the defense budget, which has led to a higher valuation," Bernstein analyst Douglas Harned wrote in a note, according to Reuters.

The now nearly $400 billion F-35 weapons program was developed in 2001 to replace the US military's F-15, F-16, and F-18 aircraft.

Lockheed Martin's "jack of all trades" F-35s were developed to dogfight, provide close air support, execute long-range bombing attacks, and take off from and land on aircraft carriers — all while using the most advanced available stealth capabilities.

Adding to the complexity, Lockheed Martin agreed to design and manufacture three variant F-35s for different sister service branches.

The Air Force has the agile F-35A; the F-35B can take off and land without a runway, ideal for the amphibious Marine Corps; and the F-35C is meant to serve on the Navy's aircraft carriers.

As it stands now the Pentagon expects to buy 2,457 of these supersonic warplanes.

All three F-35 variants at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Left to right: F-35C carrier variant, F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variant, F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant. | Lockheed Martin

According to Lockheed Martin, sales in its aeronautics business, the company's largest, rose 6% in the past three months due to delivery of 14 F-35s.

The company has said it plans to deliver 53 F-35 jets in 2016, up from 45 a year earlier.

Highlights from Lockheed Martin's quarterly earnings report:

  • Net sales rose to $12.91 billion (from $11.64 billion in Q2 2015)
  • Net income rose to $1.02 billion (or $3.32 per share), which is up from $929 million (or $2.94 per share) in Q2 2015
  • Generated $1.5 billion in cash from operations
  • Raised 2016's profit forecast to $12.15–$12.45 per share (from $11.50-$11.80)
  • Raised 2016's full-year sales of $50.0 billion-$51.5 billion (from earlier estimate of $49.6 billion-$51.1 billion)

Defense giants Northrop Grumman and Raytheon are expected to report quarterly results next week.

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