F-35 fighter price could soar if delayed-general

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F-35 fighter price could soar if delayed-general

Reuters 8 September 2006

WASHINGTON, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, funded by the United States and eight other nations, could initially cost another $12 million to $16 million apiece if production is curtailed in early years, the project's top general said Friday. This could eat into purchases by projected early buyers such as Britain, Australia and the Netherlands, Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Davis, said in an interview. He urged Congress to take heed. At a projected $276.5 billion, the radar-evading, single-engine warplane represents the Pentagon's biggest planned acquisition -- some 2,443 aircraft. It is being built in three models to replace the F-16 and other warplanes for the United States and its friends and allies. "We've said all along the Joint Strike Fighter is as much an instrument of the Department of State as it is of the Department of Defense," Davis said. He said U.S. lawmakers should weigh the international impact of steps toward cutting or delaying production because the F-35 is the centerpiece of a powerful emerging coalition. The U.S. Senate voted to delay by one year a Bush administration plan to buy the first five F-35s in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. Its counterpart panel in the House of Representatives funded four of the first five years sought by President George W. Bush in the fiscal year, starting Oct. 1. Details must be worked out in conference. A Lockheed spokesman, John Smith, said no technical issues would keep the company from starting low-rate initial production of the F-35 in the coming year, as sought by President Bush. "The government will save time and money if they keep the program on track," he said. Key F-35 subcontractors include BAE Systems Plc and Northrop Grumman Corp.

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