America's most expensive weapons system just got a little cheaper

  • The latest contract for 141 of Lockheed Martin's F-35's will come at a price tag of $11.5 billion, the lowest in the history of the weapons program.
  • The F-35, a fifth-generation stealth fighter, is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons system.
A U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter approaches at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.
A U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter approaches at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's largest weapons supplier just cut a deal with the Defense Department for the next batch of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters — a program with an initial acquisition cost of $406.5 billion.

The latest contract for 141 of Lockheed Martin's F-35's will come at a price tag of $11.5 billion, the lowest in the history of the weapons program. Of the 141 aircraft, 91 will be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and the remaining 50 will be used by international program partners and customers.

The Air Force, which is buying the lion's share of jets, will spend $89.2 million for their F-35A's. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps and Navy will spend $115.5 million and $107.7 million on their F-35B and F-35C aircraft, respectively. In the prior contract, the Air Force's jet was priced at $94.3 million, the Marine Corps jet at $122.4 million, and the Navy $121.2 million.

"Driving down cost is critical to the success of this program," said Vice Admiral Mat Winter, the executive officer for the F-35 program, in a statement. "This agreement for the next lot of F-35s represents a fair deal for the U.S. government, our international partnership and industry. We remain focused on aggressively reducing F-35 cost and delivering best value."

The F-35, a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, 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 helmet-display issues.