Global partners monitor U.S. F-35 program: Lockheed

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 31, 2011 5:00 PM
Global partners monitor U.S. F-35 program: Lockheed

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jet has firm support from its international partners, but they are keeping a close eye on changes the government might make to the program, a company executive said on Wednesday.

The F-35 has come under criticism from some in the Congress in the wake of cost overruns and production delays. The radar-evading fighter jet would be the costliest Pentagon weapons purchase at more than $382 billion over the next two decades for more than 2,440 aircraft.

Tom Burbage, executive vice president for F-35 program integration at Lockheed, said various global partners, including Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom and Turkey were still on track to make purchases.

The United States is developing three models of the F-35 with eight partners -- Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.

The international partners "are firmly in this program. This is their recapitalization program," Burbage said during an event at Lockheed's plant in Marietta, Georgia, which produces the center wing of the F-35 fuselage.

"I don't think you're going to see softness on the part of any partners," Burbage added. "But they are concerned about any adjustments that the U.S. government is making to the program."

As the United States looks to cut security spending in a bid to reduce deficits, the nation's Defense Department -- the world's largest weapons buyer -- may be forced to make difficult decisions on personnel and weapons systems.

Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, told reporters he did not expect the number of F-35s the Pentagon plans to buy to change much because of a need to replace aging U.S. fighter jets with a next-generation aircraft.

Burbage said that, while the number of F-35s procured by the Defense Department could change as the government continues to review the program, he would not expect any difference to be substantial.

"I don't think (the numbers) are going to change substantially because we have a lot of commitments around the world that we have to satisfy and the airplanes that this airplane is replacing are all getting old," Burbage said.

Lockheed Martin shares closed up 0.1 percent at $74.19 on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs; editing by Andre Grenon)