A “handshake agreement” reached between the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin to purchase 141 F-35 fighter jets over the next few years was hailed this week by members of the state’s Congressional delegation as great news for Connecticut subcontractors including engine-maker Pratt & Whitney.
The tentative multi-year contract for the 11th lot of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters would reduce the cost of each jet fighter to roughly $89 million — or about 6 percent less the last year’s price of $94.3 million. As production continues to ratchet up, Lockheed hopes to lower the cost to about $80 million per jet by 2020 — an important step toward answering criticism from President Trump and other officials about the price tag for the stealthy jets.
U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st, a longtime supporter of Pratt & Whitney, called the deal a “critical agreement” for the military, U.S. allies and more than 1,500 American manufacturers across 46 states.
“This announcement solidifies the Pentagon’s continued investment in the F-35 program which strengthens our national defense and contributes to over 194,000 American jobs, including 4,600 high-skilled manufacturing jobs in Connecticut,” he said. “I would like to commend Ellen Lord, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, for her leadership in ensuring that our military has the most advanced equipment at the best value while recognizing efforts and ingenuity of American manufacturers who support the program.”
U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy issued a joint statement in support of the “handshake agreement.”
“We are pleased to see continued progress by both the Department of Defense and industry with their initiatives to significantly reduce costs for the F-35 program. Since the first production lot, F-35 unit costs have declined by more than 60 percent with a clear direction to continue to reduce costs as compared to current legacy 4th Generation fighters. This agreement will support both our national security and Connecticut jobs,” they said.
Pratt and Whitney is the sole engine manufacturer for all three variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and the F135 engines they produce are contracted separately from the aircraft. In May, the Department of Defense awarded a contract for the 11th lot of F135 engines — 135 total engines — valued at approximately $2 billion dollars. Another 82 Connecticut companies are “first-tier suppliers” for the F-35 program.
The Lot 11 order will be for 141 planes for both U.S. and international allies and partners, which signals the largest order thus far for the F-35 program— up from 90 aircraft in Lot 10. Lockheed expects to hit full-rate production of 160 jets per year by 2023.