388th FW dialing-in F-35A’s cannon loading, firing in training

F-35A aircraft from Hill Air Force Base's 4th Fighter Squadron perform the first operational strafing run at the Utah Test and Training Range in August.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The most expensive weapons system in Department of Defense history is getting a markdown.

The Pentagon recently finalized an $11.5 billion contract for the next production group of F-35s, a deal that marks the lowest price per aircraft in the history of the next generation fighter jet.

In an email, F-35 Joint Program Office spokesman Joe DellaVedova said the DoD contract with Lockheed Martin involves the production and delivery of 141 F-35s — 91 for the U.S. Services (including 53 for the Air Force), 28 for international partners and 22 for Foreign Military Sales customers.

Contract deliveries will begin in January 2019.

DellaVedova said the cost of each of the three F-35 variants was reduced from previous contracts. As it stands now, the Air Force's F-35A model costs $89.2 million per plane, the Marine Corps B model comes in at $115.5 million, with the C model (used by the Navy) priced at $107.7 million.

Pilots and maintainers at Hill Air Force Base operate the Air Force's first combat fleet of F-35s. The base was selected as the service's preferred home for the jet in December 2013 after a four-year environmental review process.

Since the initial delivery of the first two jets in late 2015, the base has been accepting one to two F-35s every month. Once the full fleet of 78 Lightning IIs is complete, expected sometime in 2019, the planes will be divided among three fighter squadrons.

Hill now has a fleet of more than 40 F-35s — more than halfway to its full complement of planes. 

A statement from Hill's F-35 Program Integration Office says the final 28 jets delivered to the base will be under the new price point.

The high price of the plane has been at the forefront of criticisms launched at the F-35 program for years, but DellaVedova said cost for the F-35A have been lowered for 11 consecutive years. The last batch of F-35As were priced at $94.3 million per plane.

Greg Ulmer, Lockheed's F-35 general manager, said as production continues, the defense contractor plans reduce the cost of the F-35A to $80 million by 2020 — a price equal to or less than most legacy aircraft, like the F-16.

According to the F-35 JPO, there are more than 320 jets operating at 15 bases around the world. More than 680 pilots and 6,100 maintainers have been trained and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 155,000 cumulative flight hours

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/MitchShaw.StandardExaminer.

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