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DOD Laser-Focused on Driving Down Costs of F-35, General Says

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There are about 630 F-35 Lightning IIs in the field today in nine nations, including the U.S., the program executive officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office said. Five of those nations have deployed the F-35 in combat.

A jet streaks through the air.
Airborne Ops
An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron flies over Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, May 12, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Jose Miguel T. Tamondong
VIRIN: 210512-F-XX992-4136

Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric T. Fick spoke yesterday at the McAleese FY2022 Defense Programs conference.

"The F-35 delivers truly game-changing capabilities today. With its combination of stealth, sensor fusion and interoperability, the F-35 is truly the quarterback of the joint force," he said.

The U.S. and its allies and partners who use the F-35 don't have unlimited funds, so Fick said that the services are "laser-focused" on driving down costs, not just in development and production, but in sustainment, where 80% of the money is spent.

To save on cost, the technicians are increasing the amount of automated testing on the plane's software so that faulty software isn't pushed into the field, or even into the flight test, he said.

Using the joint simulation environment for initial operational test and evaluation, is also being employed to reduce the cost to develop and deliver software ahead of open-air flight tests, he said. 

A jet achieves front-end lift as it takes off.
Takeoff Time
An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron takes off from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, May 12, 2021
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Jose Miguel T. Tamondong
VIRIN: 210512-F-XX992-4235
A jet is refueled in air.
Refueling Flight
An Air Force F-35 Lightning II receives fuel from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker over Utah near Salt Lake City, May 12, 2020.
Photo By: Air National Guard 2nd Lt. Jaycee Baker
VIRIN: 200512-Z-F3905-0006
A jet prepares to land on a ship.
Landing Prep
An F-35B Lightning II, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepares to land on the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island in support of Northern Edge 2021 in the north Pacific near Alaska, May 6, 2021.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Heath Zeigler
VIRIN: 210506-N-JC800-1070M

In sustainment for the U.S. Air Force, the cost per flight hour for the F-35 went down from $37,000 to $33,300 in the course of just one year from 2019 to 2020, he said, mentioning that's a lot of progress.

The services are also looking to increase the use of advanced simulators to reduce the cost of actually flying.

Driving down the costs of spare parts, maintenance and repair is the next big focus, he said.

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