As 2013 comes to an end, there are plenty of positive developments to look back on regarding the F-35 Lightning II program, according to Loren Thompson on Forbes.com. In a recent article, Thompson praised the many achievements of the fifth-generation fighter program over the course of 2013, including increased testing and cost reductions.
As the program continues to make strides in the new year, Thompson stressed the importance of increased production rates to ensuring that costs reach levels similar to the fighter's fourth-generation counterparts.
From the article:
The program’s growing success has huge consequences for America and its allies. Three U.S. military services — the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps — are counting on the F-35 to provide the bulk of their tactical air power through mid-century. A total of 2,443 planes will be purchased to secure hostile air space, precisely destroy enemy targets, and gather diverse reconnaissance. It is no exaggeration to say that the success of U.S. military operations in future wars hinges on the availability of the F-35, and the plans of many allies do too. Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Israel, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Turkey and the United Kingdom have all signed up to make F-35 their next-generation fighter.
With the F-35 fighter successfully achieving new milestones every month, there is only one really big issue still confronting the program: whether budget constraints will allow the government to ramp up annual production to truly economical rates. The original business plan assumed big cost savings by accelerating production fast to a level where sizable economies of scale would be feasible, but as Lockheed Martin program manager Lorraine Martin pointed out the day the hundredth F-35 rolled off the line, rates have been flat at 30-36 planes for the last four years. Initially the rates were restrained by concerns about program maturity, but the issue now is government spending constraints.