Lockheed wins $6bn F-35 fighter jet deal – and it is not happy

Lockheed Martin has been awarded a US$6.1 billion Pentagon contract for 57 of its F-35 fighter planes, but the world’s largest defence contractor was less than pleased to hear the news.

It was “not a mutually agreed-upon” contract, said the Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein after the Us defence department announced that it had awarded the ninth F-35 production contract, the biggest to date. “We are disappointed with the decision by the government to issue a unilateral contract action,” said Mr Rein.

The public display of displeasure was a rare departure from the mutual praise that the Pentagon and its top contractors usually lavish on each other, even when they have differences. This time, defence officials decided to break off talks after 18 months of inconclusive negotiations over the ninth contract for low-rate initial production (LRIP) of the F-35. Talks continue over a 10th contract that once was expected to be issued simultaneously with the one announced today.

Bruce Tanner, Lockheed’s chief financial officer, had said that the company’s differences with the defence department concerned the cost to perform the contract, terms and conditions and “the profit level for the contractor”.

The F-35 is the costliest US weapons system, projected at $379n for a fleet of 2,443 US planes, with others to be sold to partners such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and Italy. While Pentagon officials have said the F-35’s soaring cost has stabilised and its persistent performance problems are lessening, they said that they will need as much as $530 million extra to finish the plane’s development phase.

Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the director of the F-35 programme office, said the contract was a “fair and reasonable deal” for the United States, international partners and industry.

“We will continue to negotiate in good faith with industry to keep the F-35 affordable and provide the best possible value for our customers,” Lt Gen Bogdan said.

Mr Rein said the Pentagon action “obligates us to perform under standard terms and conditions, and previously agreed-to items” and “we will continue to execute on the F-35 programme”. But he also added, without elaboration: “We will evaluate our options and path forward.”

Lockheed said in a regulatory filing last week that it had “incurred costs in excess of funds obligated” during the negotiations “in an effort to meet the customer’s desired aircraft delivery dates. As a result, we have approximately $950m of potential cash exposure and $2.3bn in termination liability exposure related to the F-35 LRIP 9 and 10 contracts.”

The contractor said in the filing that it had provided repeated notifications to the Pentagon “that current funding is insufficient to cover the production process”.

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