Lockheed Plane To Be Reviewed By The Pentagon
By August Cole
Lockheed Martin Corp.'s newest fighter plane will come under scrutiny
as Defense Department officials consider whether to proceed with an
aircraft that could cost as much as $1 trillion to develop in coming
The Pentagon's senior weapons buyers are scheduled to meet Wednesday
to consider plans to purchase 2,458 of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft
for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, amid growing concerns by
lawmakers on the rising size of the tab. Lockheed beat out Boeing Co.
for the F-35 contract in 2001, and it has become crucial for the
Bethesda, Md., defense contractor.
The Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative arm,
said earlier this month that buying all the planes will cost $300
billion based on government data from December 2006. Another $650
billion will be needed to maintain and operate them well into this
century. The GAO says the planes, with development costs, will average
$122 million each in current dollars.
The figures come as concerns about the economy and expenses from the
Iraq war put political pressure on the Pentagon to rein in costs.
Lockheed is waiting for the green light on an early-stage production
contract for six Air Force versions of the plane that operate like
conventional fighters and six Marine Corps versions that take off from
short runways and land vertically. The first production aircraft will
be delivered in 2010.
The Air Force has requested funding for just one engine design for the
plane, made by United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney division.
Congress has continued to fund a second design, by General Electric
Co. and Rolls-Royce PLC, which GAO estimates adds $6.8 billion to the
cost of the contract.
Program managers wrestled with the aircraft's weight, engine testing
and design issues that slowed development and pressured costs higher.
A Pentagon cost update is expected next month. The new figures will be
important because of concerns about cost overruns that could
jeopardize the contract. The GAO said that its own projections could
rise with the new data.