July 3 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin was awarded a $348.2 million contract for Lot 12 low-rate initial production of the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet for the U.S. military and its allies.
The contract for non-recurring, special tooling and special test equipment to start the next lot, announced Tuesday by the Defense Department, comes amid a Bloomberg News report that United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney unit is chronically late delivering engines for the jets.
The new contract modification is for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, non-U.S. Department of Defense partners and foreign military sales customers. Work is expected to be completed in August 2022.
Of the purchases, 38 percent are for the Air Force, 20 percent for the Navy, 17 percent for the Marine Corps, 17 percent for non-U.S. Department of Defense partners and 8 percent for foreign military sales partners.
Lockheed Martin and the Department of Defense last month reached a agreement on a $34 billion contract for three future lots of F-35 production over the next several years. The deal includes production of 478 F-35s, with the company estimating that the F-35A variant is expected to eventually cost less than $80 million per jet.
Of the 478 aircraft in the agreement, 157 will be produced in Lot 12 for the U.S. military, partner nations and foreign sales customers.
Turkey was listed as a contractor site on Tuesday's announcement -- contributing just .01 percent of work -- even though the United States has said Turkey's involvement in manufacturing the F-35 fighter plane will end if it goes through with plans to buy a Russian missile defense system. Turkey also would not be able to purchase or train on the aircraft, former acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said in a June 6 letter.
The $428 billion F-35 program is scheduled to enter full-rate production by next year, but the aircraft must pass a current round of intensive combat testing -- and production issues must be ironed out. One concern is engine production, which makes up about $66 billion of the program cost.
Pratt, which makes the F135 engines used on F-35s, has been under a "Corrective Action Request" from the Defense Contract Management Agency for "poor delivery performance" on its current produced engines for the fighter jet.
A GAO report in April, while outlining that F-35s have been grounded 30 percent of the time because of problems with the parts supply chain, noted that the company had fewer on-time deliveries in 2018, as well as increased quality issues. The report pointed to subcontractors not having all the needed tooling in place for production, in addition to "other issues," for the late deliveries.
Pentagon spokesman Mark Woodbury told Bloomberg the engine maker must demonstrate by year-end that it made necessary improvements by this year to fix the problems.
Woodbury said the company has been "an average of 40 days" late on 88 of 90 engines built under a previous contract. And DSCA reports that "engine test failures due to high vibrations and foreign object debris" have marred production -- making deliveries even later.
"We take seriously our responsibility to meet F135 production commitments," said John Thomas, a spokesman for Pratt. "The corrective action plan submitted earlier this year lays out how we are doing that. Over the past year, we have invested more than $200 million for additional capacity, and currently have over 100 Pratt & Whitney employees deployed to our supplier facilities in support of production obligations."
Pratt and Whitney has received two contracts for F-35 engines in recent weeks, including a $3.2 billion deal to supply 233 propulsion systems for aircraft for the U.S. and allies. And last week, the Pentagon announced Pratt and Whitney will build spare engines for the fighter planes in a $358.5 million contract with a completion date of June 2022.
The F-35, as well as the F-22 Raptor, are planned to replace most of the U.S. military's fighter fleets over the next several years.