By Vakkas Dogantekin
ANKARA (AA) - Defense giant Lockheed Martin on Monday said it is closely watching developments between the U.S. and Turkey over the F-35 fighter jets.
Marillyn Hewson, CEO of the U.S. firm which spearheads the F-35 project, said: "Well, you know that it is a government to government matter and we are watching it closely, obviously."
Her remarks came at the Paris Air Show during an interview with CNBC International.
Despite their longstanding strategic alliance as members of NATO, Turkey and the U.S. since 2017 have been at odds over Ankara's decision to buy the S-400, a Russian-made missile defense system. In response, the U.S. has threatened to break its contract to sell Turkey F-35 jets.
Hewson said Lockheed will make sure there is no disruption to the F-35 production line if Turkey is excluded from the project on U.S. demand.
"What we do, what we stay focused on is how we manage it, how we evaluate our options and supply chain. We are going to make sure there is no disruption to the production line," said Hewson, but did not explain how.
Hewson commented on efforts to reduce the massive production and operational costs of the F-35 project.
"We made a commitment well over 5 years ago that we are going to drive the price of the aircraft down to $80 million on our conventional A variant. We have been able to do it one year earlier," said Hewson.
- Pentagon's concerns over costs
The U.S. threat to cut Turkey out of the F-35 project ignores not only its settled contract to buy the jets, but also Ankara's long and integral role in producing technology for the advanced planes.
One of the most complex structural sections of the aircraft, the F-35A Center Fuselage, is produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) as a second source.
Top Turkish defense firms Aselsan, Havelsan, Kale Aero, Kale Pratt & Whitney, Ayesas, and Alp Aviation also manufacture essential components of the F-35 and provide cutting-edge engineering services.
The U.S. Department of Defense, also known as the Pentagon, is also interested in lowering the costs of operating and maintaining the F-35.
The latest figures of Pentagon obtained last month by Bloomberg News estimate the operation and maintenance costs of the F-35 fleet of fighters for six decades at $1.196 trillion.
American officials also raised concerns last week during a House Armed Services hearing about the goal to get F-35 cost per flight hours down to $25,000 by fiscal year 2025, among others. It currently stands at $44,000.
According to military website Defense News, Vice Adm. Mat Winter, Pentagon's F-35 program executive, expressed his frustration with delays in the project during the hearing.
“I’m hitting a stagnant plateau with Lockheed Martin because they are 600 parts behind on average: 600 parts not on the production line when I need them,” Winter said.
“That supplier that generates a widget is generating a new widget for the production line, for our spare package, and we still have to repair the ones that are breaking in the field,” Winter said.
Winter added that "the reliability of parts is still not meeting expectations, and it’s taking too long to move them through depot."