Lockheed Martin to develop new F-35 variant for undisclosed customer

Lockheed develop new F35 variant
USMC F-35B Lightning II is launched from the flight deck of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2).

The Pentagon awarded Lockheed Martin a $49 million contract on Monday to design and develop a new variant of the F-35 stealth fighter for an unnamed ally.

"Lockheed Martin Corp, Fort Worth, Texas is awarded a $49,059,494 cost-plus-incentive-fee-contract that provides engineering and other related activities in support of the design and development of a Joint Strike Fighter aircraft variant tailored for an unspecified Foreign Military Sales customer," the Department of Defense said.

Work on the new JSF variant is expected to be completed in December 2026 and will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas (77%); Redondo Beach, California (14%); Orlando, Florida (6%); Baltimore, Maryland (1%); Owego, New York (1%) and Samlesbury, United Kingdom (1%).

According to the announcement, the activity will be outsourced to the US Navy's Naval Air Systems Command which is responsible for following the FMS programs for the naval fleets of partner nations. This means that the new aircraft will most likely be assigned to a naval air squadron. We feel we can exclude the C/CATOBAR variant as only France and Brazil have aircraft carriers with catapults other than the United States and neither is currently interested in the F-35. The aircraft will most likely be sold in the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant with some modifications.

India, for example, is looking at a new fighter for its ski-jump aircraft carrier, however New Dheli's recent purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system has likely excluded the nation from the F-35 Club. The Spanish Navy is also close to retiring its Harrier jump jets, but Madrid has repeatedly denied being interested in the F-35.

Currently, the only known nations that have allocated budgets to purchase new F-35B aircraft are the UK and Japan.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Image: MCSN Sabyn Marrs

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