Top Pentagon officials on Wednesday cited both progress and continuing risks on the $396 billion Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter program, and said Singapore had shown “tremendous interest” in the next-generation stealth fighter.
Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the Pentagon’s F-35 program chief, told a subcommittee that he expects to reach agreement with Lockheed about a sixth and seventh batch of F-35s by the end of May, followed by a contract award in June. Sources familiar with the matter said the deal would cover 71 planes and would be worth about $9 billion.
Bogdan told a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Singapore would likely decide by this summer whether to buy the new warplane.
He said he was also “cautiously optimistic” that South Korea would also join the multinational program when it announces the winner of a 60-plane competition in June.
Boeing Co’s F-15 Silent Eagle and the Eurofighter Typhoon, built by EADS, Finmeccanica SpA and BAE Systems Plc, are also competing for the contract.
The United States is counting on foreign sales of the new radar-evading fighter to help drive down the plane’s cost, which has risen sharply since the program began in 2001 and may go up further if budget cuts by Washington or other countries postpone or curtail their orders…
He said the program’s biggest challenge remained completing the final version of the complex software needed for the plane.
He said he saw “some risk” that the Block 3F software being developed by Lockheed would be delayed beyond late 2017, when the Air Force needs it to be able to start using the warplanes for military operations.