Report: How to lower F-35 costs? Lockheed asks employees

LockMart hopes its workers could ease some costs of the world's largest defense program.

Lockheed Martin has asked its employees for suggestions on how to lower the cost of its F-35 Lightning II, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

Barry Shlachter, Sandra Baker and Jim Fuquay write that Lockheed has launched an “affordability challenge,” under which some employees can submit their ideas for how to reduce some of the costs of the world’s largest defense program, now estimated to run about $400 billion to acquire and about $1.45 trillion overall. (Though there are reasons to be skeptical about that mega-number.)

Wrote Schlacther et al:

Using a special computer program called Brainstorm, the project asks salaried employees to submit ideas for cost-saving techniques that can be analyzed.

“Since we launched the program Monday morning, we’ve already had about 30 suggestions,” spokesman B.J. Boling told staff writer Bob Cox.

The F-35 program was initially sold to the Pentagon and Congress as a low-cost way to provide all three U.S. military services with new-generation combat jets. But costs run amok. As a result, the Pentagon, Congress and outside critics are making noise about program costs and hammering on Lockheed to make the aircraft more “affordable.”

Lockheed will pick the most promising ideas and have them reviewed by its in-house experts to see if they can be implemented. Employees with the winning ideas will be recognized by the company.

“Hopefully through this filtration process we’ll get a few ideas that come out the other end that will result in real affordability gains,” Boling said.

Lockheed would doubtless argue that on the scale of thousands of airplanes, even small improvements in efficiency and reductions in cost will add up. In fact, we heard last year that DoD program officials were already mulling changes to their F-35 production plans, including the notion that they’d dispense with their onetime hope of building different copies of the fighters on demand.

One original goal for F-35 was for Lockheed to be able to use its factory like one of those incredible Coke machines you see around these days, the ones loaded with every soft drink, letting you mix them as you please. Orders could come in from DoD or international customers in any sequence — couple Bs, couple As, couple Canadian As with different refueling hookups — and Lockheed could build each one in any order. But DoD has considered scaling back those ambitions and sticking with block production, holding orders until it could run a more efficient block batch of jets.

No recent word on where those discussions stand, and we may not hear until DoD and Lockheed ink a deal for the next batch of low-rate, initial production aircraft. In the meantime, Lockheed workers in Fort Worth will be coming up with money-saving ideas of their own.

What do you think the program and Lockheed should do to reduce costs?