Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin was awarded a $90 million contract modification to reduce the cost of F-35 fighter aircraft, the U.S. Navy announced.
The contract, awarded to the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Corporation subsidiary, calls for the identification and execution of cost-reduction efforts for the F-35's air system.
That work will be performed at the company's Fort Worth, Texas, facility. It combines Air Force, Navy and Marine purchases of the plane. The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting agent.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, a former executive of Lockheed Martin competitor Boeing, has criticized the F-35's price, which currently stands at about $90 million for each aircraft. Compounding those cost concerns, the U.S. military and allies temporarily grounded all F-35 variants worldwide in October 2017 over "suspect fuel tubes," the F-35 Joint Program Office said at the time.
"I am biased toward giving the taxpayer their money's worth, and the F-35, unequivocally, I can say, has a lot of opportunity for more performance," Shanahan said in January, after reports that the Defense Department was considering the purchase of Boeing's F-15 fighter planes.
Defense analysts and politicians also criticized of the fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter's increasing costs. In condemning the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin for delays and cost overruns in 2017, the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the plane was the "poster child for acquisition malpractice." As a candidate in 2016, President Donald Trump called the plane's costs "out of control" before the Defense Department announced a deal to eliminate an estimated $728 million in the cost of 90 F-35s it ordered.
Last September, the price per plane fell to below $90 million for the first time as Lockheed Martin had begun building the planes faster. The plane now comes in three variants, costing between $89 million and $115.5 million each.
"We're going to continue to drive the price down, and we won't stop there," Lockheed Martin CEO Marilyn Hewson said. "We will always be looking at ways that we can take cost down in the program as it continues to mature and grow."
The company delivered 91 F-35s to the U.S. military and its allies in 2018, a 40 percent increase over the previous year.