South Korea, which is boosting its air defenses amid ongoing tensions in the Pacific, formally decided Monday to buy 40 F-35 stealth fighter jets for $6.7 billion from Lockheed Martin.
The commitment by South Korea marks a “big day” for the F-35 program in Fort Worth, said Steve O’Bryan, Lockheed’s vice president for F-35 business development.
“All of these jets will be built and delivered off the line here at our facilities. Our suppliers, a lot of them in Texas and Dallas-Fort Worth, will build all those parts,” he said.
The F-35 currently costs $100 million per plane, but the price is expected to drop to about $85 million in 2019, or about $75 million in today’s dollars, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, F-35 program manager at the Department of Defense, said last week.
The South Korean purchase will help drive a build-up in production on the more than one-mile-long F-35 assembly line. About 2,000 people currently work on the line at the company’s west Fort Worth facility that employs a total of 12,500.
The 100th F-35 rolled off the line in December and 93 aircraft have now been delivered to the Department of Defense. Lockheed expects to build 35 this year, up from 13 in 2011.
Current capacity is 60 F-35s a year and an additional 2,417 workers would be needed to ramp up to 150 aircraft by 2018-2019, O’Bryan said.