AVALON Feb 28 The overall reliability of
Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jets is being pulled
down by initial versions of the aircraft which do not perform as
well as more recently delivered jets, the Pentagon's head of the
F-35 programme said on Tuesday.
The programme has experienced extensive delays and cost
overruns, but the price per jet has steadily declined as
production increased, Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan of the
U.S. Department of Defense said at Australia's Avalon Airshow.
As U.S. President Donald Trump pushes Lockheed Martin and
its suppliers to cut costs, Bogdan said the price per jet should
fall to $80 million by 2020 from $94.6 million at present.
The first F-35 aircraft were delivered to the U.S. military
in 2011. With some of those earlier aircraft, production
advances means they underperform newer models, Bogdan said.
"Unfortunately today the aircraft reliability and
maintainability of the airplane is what I would call flat," he
said. "It is not bad. It is just not getting a whole lot better
really fast. You separate out their (Lockheed Martin's) good
airplanes, they are getting better, faster. But not if you
include the older airplanes. We have to work on that."
"Eventually when we modify those older airplanes up to the
standards of the newer airplanes we will have a fleet that is
fairly robust," Bogdan told reporters.
The Royal Australian Air Force took delivery in 2014 of two
F-35s, which are being used to train pilots, and which are
scheduled to be fitted with the latest technology.
"We already have started to undertake some modifications
done in later aircraft," said Air Vice-Marshal Leigh Gordon.
The F-35 will make its first public appearance in Australia
at the airshow on Friday, but the aircraft will not be
permanently based in the country until December 2018.
Australia is one of 10 U.S. allies participating in the F-35
programme. It has ordered 72 F-35 aircraft worth A$17 billion
Lockheed Martin's F-35 Communications Director Mike Rein
told Reuters the aircraft maker had always expected the jets
would get progressively better as design and software matured.
"The good news is the older jets will all be updated to be
on par with jets we're building today," he said.
($1 = 1.3024 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Christopher Cushing)