A Pentagon decision to reduce near-term F-35 purchases will not hinder Lockheed Martin from meeting South Korea’s demand for an early 2016 first delivery under the F-X3 fighter program, insists David Scott, director of F-35 international customer engagement for the prime contractor.
Current production capacity can build 48 aircraft annually, and with the U.S. looking to buy around 30 aircraft per year, there are slots to meet South Korea’s demands, as well as other near-term international buyers such as Japan, Turkey, Italy and Norway.
A Joint Strike Fighter steering board will convene soon to update and reconcile purchase plans. If there is need for extra tooling to be acquired either at Lockheed Martin or in the F-35 supply chain, there would be time to do so, Scott tells Aviation Week during the Singapore air show.
The South Korean competition to supply 60 fighters will pit the F-35A against the Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle and, potentially, European bidders.
The international buys also will help maintain production of F-35s at a more economical rate, Scott notes.
Lockheed Martin would need a waiver to sell the fighter to South Korea because of a U.S. prohibition of exporting hardware before an aircraft has entered service with the U.S. The waiver is likely to be granted, though, with the U.S. government having already granted one for Japan.
Still unclear is what the next big F-35 competition will be overseas. The focus, after South Korea, likely will shift to solidifying plans with Singapore, Australia and others already involved in the program at various levels.
By Robert Wall
February 22, 2012