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The Pentagon is trying to figure out the true cost of its costliest weapons system, the F-35

  • The top official overseeing the F-35 program wants to know the true price tag of the Pentagon's costliest weapons system.
  • Lockheed Martin's fifth-generation stealth fighter, valued at an acquisition cost of $406.5 billion, has become one of the most challenged programs in the Pentagon's history.
  • The program has experienced setbacks that include faulty ejection seats, software delays and helmet-display issues.
A F-35 fighter jet take-offs for a training mission at Hill Air Force Base on March 15, 2017 in Ogden, Utah.
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A F-35 fighter jet take-offs for a training mission at Hill Air Force Base on March 15, 2017 in Ogden, Utah.

The top F-35 program official wants to know the true price tag of the Pentagon's costliest weapons system.

"To better inform our target glide path, I want to know what it truly costs to produce the aircraft," said Navy Vice Admiral Mat Winter, program executive officer for the Pentagon's F-35 joint program office.

"The number of quality escapes and what we call production line defects needs to get better," Winter told reporters during a roundtable Wednesday.

Lockheed Martin's fifth-generation stealth fighter, valued at an acquisition cost of $406.5 billion, has become one of the most challenged programs in the history of the Department of Defense. The laundry list of setbacks includes faulty ejection seats, software delays and significant helmet-display issues.

President Donald Trump has criticized the soaring price tag on the "jack of all trades" jet as being "out of control."

"They were having a lot of difficulty. There was no movement. And I was able to get $600 million approximately off those planes. So I think that was a great achievement," Trump told reporters following the latest contract agreement.

"We will be saving billions and billions and billions of dollars on contracts," Trump added.

While Winter doesn't think Trump will have to get involved this time, he is dissatisfied with how the current negotiations are going for the next set of aircraft.

"The price is coming down, but it's not coming down fast enough," said Winter, saying he believes Lockheed Martin is negotiating in good faith — but with a caveat.

"I will tell you that I am not as satisfied with the collaboration and cooperation by Lockheed Martin," he added. "They could be much more cooperative and collaborative, and we could seal this deal faster; we could. They choose not to, and that's a negotiating tactic."

As it stands now, the unit price for an F-35A — including aircraft, engine and fees — is $94.3 million.

"We are targeting a reduction from that for lot 11 and for obviously lot 12, 13 as we go forward," Winter said.

Winter added that the projected sustainment costs on the F-35 are poised to become unaffordable as the fleet grows from 280 aircraft to 800-plus by the end of 2021.

Despite tough contract talks, Winter said that pressuring the defense giant into an unilateral contract agreement is an "endgame tactic" and "we are nowhere near that."

"I'm negotiating for the best deal," he said. "I'm gonna go for the best deal for the taxpayer, for my partners and as importantly as the next negotiation starting point for lot 12 and on."

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