| ORLANDO, Florida
ORLANDO, Florida Feb 27 Finland and Belgium
have become the latest countries to speak to the Pentagon about
possible purchase of the multinational F-35 Joint Strike
Fighter, said manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N).
Three variants of the radar-evading F-35 are being
developed with financing from the United States and eight other
countries. Lockheed Martin calls it the world's most advanced
"Finland and Belgium have expressed interest to the JPO,"
said Chris Geisel, a Lockheed spokesman, referring to the
Pentagon's F-35 Joint Program office.
Spain, looking eventually to replace its Harrier jump jets,
has gone further, with a contractual study in place since late
2007, Geisel said. Greece and South Korea each received F-35
briefings from the U.S. government early this year, he added.
F-35 competitors include Saab's (SAABb.ST) Gripen, the
Dassault (AVMD.PA) Rafale, Russia's MiG-35 and Sukhoi Su-35,
and the Eurofighter Typhoon made by a consortium of British,
German, Italian and Spanish companies.
Israel is the furthest along in a projected
government-to-government F-35 deal. It appears likely to buy an
initial 25 F-35s in 2012 for delivery in 2014, with an option
for 50 more, Dan Crowley, Lockheed's F-35 program general
manager, told a briefing Thursday during a U.S. Air Force
Association symposium in Orlando, Florida.
Crowley said Singapore appears likely to get F-35s two
years after Israel. Asked about other potential buyers through
the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales program, Crowley said
Japan has expressed interest but is "farther out" on a decision
as it weighs other options.
Lockheed says all 24 countries that fly its F-16 fighter
are potential customers for the F-35, which is designed to
replace at least 13 types of aircraft, including the F-16.
The eight countries that have joined the United States to
co-develop the F-35 -- Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey,
Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway -- appear to be largely
sticking to their plans to buy some 730 F-35s of their own,
Pentagon officials have said.
The United States currently plans to buy a total of 2,443
F-35 models -- including 1,763 for the U.S. Air Force and 680
for the Marine Corps and Navy together. It is the costliest
U.S. arms acquisition program ever at a projected $299 billion
over the next two decades.
"As we mature the F-35, we continue to see evidence of
ever-strengthening customer support," including statements of
intent to buy from Norway and the Netherlands, Crowley said.
"We will see more of the same in 2009," he said, "as our
international partners begin ordering their first airplanes."
Lockheed's chief F-35 subcontractors are Northrop Grumman
Corp (NOC.N) and BAE Systems Plc (BAES.L). Two rival,
interchangeable F-35 engines are under development. One is
built by United Technologies Corp (UTX.N)'s Pratt & Whitney
unit; the other by a team of General Electric Co (GE.N) and
Rolls-Royce Group Plc (RR.L).
Lockheed said it was on track to meet its F-35 cost
It said the conventional take-off and landing model was
projected to cost in the "upper" $60 million range per copy in
adjusted 2014 dollars, when full production is due to kick in.
The short takeoff and landing version, to be used by the
U.S. Marine Corps, is projected to cost in the mid-to-upper $80
million range, the company said, citing what it called Pentagon
program office projections.
The projection for the variant designed to land on Navy
aircraft carrier is in the low $90 million range in 2015
dollars, Geisel said.
"These costs represent aircraft early in the production
cycle when aircraft costs are highest," he added. He said as
production ramps up, cost per aircraft is projected to
(Editing by Tim Dobbyn)