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Full-rate production of F-35 aircraft approved

The US Department of Defense announced the long-awaited Milestone C decision in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, enabling the start of full-rate production (FRP) of these multirole aircraft.

On Tuesday, March 12th, the United States Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, Dr. William A. LaPlante, announced the long-awaited Milestone C decision in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, enabling the commencement of full-rate production (FRP) of these multirole aircraft.

Photo: USAF

Dr. LaPlante signed the Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) after the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) meeting on March 7th, which he chaired. Preparations for this decision began in September 2023.

The Milestone C decision in the F-35 JSF program was announced after considering the results of combined initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) phase, as well as the reports from the range testing, initial development and demonstration phase entry criteria, compliance with documentation, and future production and acquisition strategy. Commencement of full-rate production requires control of the production process, acceptable performance and reliability, and establishment of appropriate maintenance and support systems.

This is a major achievement for the F-35 Program, LaPlante said. This decision—backed by my colleagues in the Department—highlights to the Services, F-35 Cooperative Program Partners, and Foreign Military Sales customers that the F-35 is stable and agile, and that all statutory and regulatory requirements have been appropriately addressed. The F-35 Program is the premier system that drives interoperability with our allies and partners while contributing to the integrated deterrence component of our National Defense Strategy.

The DOT&E phase also included operational testing of the 30P06 and 30P07 software for the Block 4 version. The Program is working on incorporating the findings and recommendations outlined in the report. One of the concerns is the continued improvement of test infrastructure to support the development and ensure readiness for testing upcoming Block 4 capabilities. This includes timely delivery of successive aircraft versions.

So far, over 990 aircraft have been delivered to 10 countries (with the thousandth unit expected to roll off the final assembly line earlier this year), which according to January data, have flown over 768,000 hours. The aircraft are currently operating from 31 airbases, with over 2,250 pilots and 15,125 technical personnel trained to operate them. Recently, the F-35A variant was certified for combat use with the latest B61-12 nuclear bombs.

The Milestone C approval is unlikely to affect the annual production volume of the F-35, which stands at about 150 units per year, as Lockheed Martin is currently utilizing all available production capacity. It is also worth noting that initially, it was anticipated that FRP would be initiated no later than 2020.


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