| AVALON, Australia, March 3
AVALON, Australia, March 3 Lockheed Martin Corp
said on Friday it was talking to the governments of
Spain, Switzerland and Belgium about selling its F-35 fighter
jets to the European nations.
Bringing new customers could help significantly reduce the
cost of the military aircraft after several blowouts and
production delays. The United States and 10 allies are clients
of the F-35 currently.
"We are talking to several other countries - Switzerland,
Belgium, Spain," Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin's F-35 programme
leader, told reporters at the Avalon Airshow in Australia.
"There are quite a few other European nations that are
looking at perhaps having the F-35 as an opportunity," Babione
said. "We are starting to see other customers think about the
F-35 being added to their fleet."
Another person familiar with the discussions, who was not
authorised to speak on the record, said that Finland was also in
Babione said that countries already signed up to the F-35
program along with the United States - Australia,
Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, the United
Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and Israel - need to start ordering
in blocks beyond yearly commitments to help meet a reduced
target cost of $80 million by 2020.
"It is actually a very reasonable target but it is going to
take cooperation in changing the way we buy the aircraft," he
U.S. President Donald Trump has criticised the cost of the
project. While the price per jet has steadily declined since the
first jets were delivered to the U.S. military in 2011 as
production has increased, it remains at $94.6 million.
Lockheed is pressing purchasers to agree to a three-year
block buy that would help reduce costs by bulk sourcing parts.
"The longer we do it the more we are able to aggregate,"
Babione said. "Maybe in the future you are talking about a
multi-year and you could do a five year multi-year and increase
Babione also urged Canada to speed up a decision about
whether it would buy the F-35s or Boeing Co's Super
The Pentagon's head of the F-35 programme said earlier this
week at Avalon that the overall reliability of the jets is being
pulled down by initial versions of the aircraft which do not
perform as well as more recently delivered jets.
"Unfortunately today the aircraft reliability and
maintainability of the airplane is what I would call flat,"
Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan of the U.S. Department of
($1 = 1.3024 Australian dollars)
(Additional reporting by Mike Stone in WASHINGTON; Writing by
Jane Wardell; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)