UPDATE 1-Pentagon to review progress of F-35 fighter program next week

Wed Oct 16, 2013 3:57pm EDT
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON Oct 16 (Reuters) - Top Pentagon officials will examine the cost of building and operating the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet at a major review of the $392 billion program next week that will also provide updates on lingering technical issues.

Kyra Hawn, spokeswoman for the Pentagon's F-35 program office, said a high-level Defense Acquisition Board meeting was expected to proceed on Monday despite the partial government shutdown. The meeting has already been postponed several times.

She said officials would receive an update on how the program was meeting cost and schedule targets, as well as progress on technical challenges including the millions of lines of software code being written for the planes.

One key issue to be discussed will be whether to increase F-35 production in coming years, as planned, according to Hawn and other officials familiar with the program.

Current plans call for Lockheed's production of the F-35 to triple from the 36 planes ordered in the sixth batch of jets for delivery in fiscal 2014. By the fiscal 2018, Lockheed is slated to be delivering around 110 planes a year, according to government documents.

Another topic at the meeting will be the long-term cost of operating and "sustaining" the plane, an issue of great concern to the U.S. military and the eight partner countries that are funding its development: Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Turkey, the Netherlands and Italy.

The Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE)office is expected to present an updated estimate of the cost over 55 years of operating and maintaining the U.S. military's future fleet of 2,443 F-35s.   Continued...