COVID-19 pandemic keeps Lockheed from meeting F-35 delivery goal in 2020

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WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin delivered 123 F-35s to the U.S. military and international customers in 2020, missing its initial 141-aircraft goal for the year but meeting its revised target, the company announced Monday.

The COVID-19 pandemic proved itself to be a formidable challenge to Lockheed’s main F-35 production line in Fort Worth, Texas, as well as its network of suppliers across the globe. As early as April, Lockheed executives sounded the alarm about potential supply chain disruptions that threatened to slow down F-35 production.

In May, the company announced it would be 18 to 24 jets short of the 141 F-35s scheduled for delivery in 2020. By fall it had set a new delivery target of 121 aircraft.

“The F-35 joint enterprise team rapidly responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to continue to deliver the unmatched combat capability the F-35 brings to the warfighter,” said Bill Brotherton, the company’s acting vice president for the F-35 program. “Achieving this milestone amid a global pandemic is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the team and their commitment to our customers’ missions.”

The 123rd aircraft — an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant — was built at the final assembly and checkout facility in Cameri, Italy and delivered to the Italian air force last week.

Over the past year, Lockheed delivered 74 F-35s to the U.S. military, 31 jets to international partner nations that helped pay into the program’s development costs, and 18 aircraft to foreign military sales customers.

However, the company needed to take steps to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its production lines and suppliers, such as accelerating payments to small businesses that build components for the aircraft and grappling with COVID-19 breakouts that have sometimes led to the quarantine of a portion of its supply chain.

In May, the F-35 production line in Fort Worth moved to a three-month adjusted work schedule, slowing the pace of production because its suppliers weren’t getting components to the line on time. During that stretch, production decreased to about eight to 10 jets per month, Darren Sekiguchi, Lockheed’s vice president of F-35 production, said in an October interview.

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Instead of surging to meet the 141-jet target — which would have increased production costs and created the risk of future delivery delays — Sekiguchi said that Lockheed would more incrementally ramp production back up to 14 jets per month. It will take until 2023 for the company to catch up to its original production schedule.

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