The Air Force has agreed to purchase 478 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters from Lockheed Martin for an estimated $34 billion. This announcement represents a reduction in cost for the most advanced fighter on the planet and is sure to reignite debate about the proper makeup of America’s fighter forces.
Last year, the U.S. Air Force caused controversy among defense officials when they announced plans to begin procurement of new F-15 airframes for the first time in decades. These new F-15EXs represent a significant jump in capability over America’s existing F-15 fleets thanks to years and billions of dollars worth of development invested by American allies in places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but critics were quick to point out that, while technically the most successful air superiority fighter in the world, even these updated F-15s lack the stealth and data fusion capabilities of the newer F-35.
F-15EX supporters, however, point to the need to procure more jets per year than F-35s can be delivered, the far lower operating cost of an F-15 as compared to the F-35, and of course, a lower procurement cost. That last point, however, has now been made moot, as Lockheed Martin and Pentagon just penned a new deal for 478 more F-35s and the bargain price of below $80 million per plane — which is notably the cost of each F-15EX.
“The $34 billion agreement for F-35 low-rate initial production of lots 12-14 includes the delivery of 478 F-35 aircraft,” Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord announced at the Pentagon Tuesday morning.