SIMI VALLEY, Calif. Dec 3 Frank Kendall, the
Pentagon's chief arms buyer, said on Saturday he was hopeful
that a proposed three-year block buy of Lockheed Martin Corp
F-35 fighter jets, expected to generate large savings,
would go ahead.
"I can't say what's in the final budget, but I'm very
hopeful that the block buy will proceed as planned, Kendall told
Reuters at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in southern
Kendall said Pentagon officials had debated postponing or
scrapping the block buy, which would cover more than 400
aircraft and includes purchases by the U.S. military and other
countries participating in the F-35 program, until after
operational testing and evaluation had been completed.
The Pentagon's chief weapons tester, Michael Gilmore, has
long argued about the need to test the planes before buying and
building larger quantities.
The Pentagon and its international buyers have pushed hard
for the block buy to help drive costs lower via bigger economies
Partners counting on the "block buy" include Norway which is
banking on saving about $50 million (400 million Norwegian
kroner) when it buys 12 F-35 warplanes from Lockheed in the
proposed group purchase.
News that the bundled purchases were likely to continue come
after tense negotiations between Lockheed and the government
about the latest F-35 contracts.
In November, negotiations on buying the ninth batch of F-35
warplanes broke down and the government imposed a contract on
the U.S. arms maker after more than a year of negotiations had
failed to culminate in a suitable agreement. Ultimately, the DOD
priced the 57 jets in ninth batch of F-35s at $6.1 billion.
In a statement at the time, Lockheed said it was
disappointed the contract had not been mutually agreed.
Scrapping the block buy, which covers fiscal years 2018
through 2020, would have been another blow to the F-35 program,
and allies counting on the deal to lower production costs.
Lockheed and its key partners, Northrop Grumman Corp
, Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems, are
developing and building three variants of the F-35s for the U.S.
military and 10 allies including: Britain, Australia, Norway,
Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Israel, Japan and South
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Mike Stone; Editing by Eric