June 20 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin is on the verge of securing the U.S. and foreign military sales needed to quickly increase production of the F-35 Lightning II, according to company officials.
The deal, which could be worth up to $40 billion, would produce and supply 440 F-35s to the U.S. and 10 allied buyers over several years.
"While not finalized, and we don't have a confirmed timetable, when an agreement is reached, it is expected to save an overall $2 billion dollars due to the ability to take advantage of the economy of scale savings buying three years of jets at once vice an annual procurement," Laurie Tortorello, senior manager for F-35 global communications at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, told UPI.
"This more than doubles the total amount of airplanes under contract, and that we'll be building," Lockheed executive Jeff Babione, said of the deal on Monday at the Paris Air Show.
Babione said the deal would support up to 150,000 jobs worldwide connected to the program, including its factories in Texas, Italy and Japan. Up to 200,000 jobs could be added over the life-cycle of the program.
Lockheed says the cost of each plane is falling rapidly, and is now standing at $95 million each. The company, which has taken heat from Congress and President Donald Trump over the estimated $400 billion cost of the program, has said it hopes to lower costs further over the next few years.
The deal would include all three variants of the F-35, designed for airfields, carrier operations, and vertical take-off and landing. Testing for the 5th fighter continues, with full-rate production expected to commence in April 2019.
The F-35 is a stealth, multi-role 5th generation fighter that is expected to replace much of the U.S. military's fighter fleet. It will be used by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, and features the most sophisticated electronic warfare and sensor systems ever put on a fighter jet.