F-35 progresses as Boeing contemplates end of F/A-18 production

Lockheed Martin said today the F-35 fighter jet should be combat-ready by mid-2015, despite an engine problem that still needs a fix, according to Reuters. Further, the news service reports, South Korea's decision Wednesday to purchase 40 of the fighters will bring the per-unit costs down from about $115 million today to $80 to $85 million by 2019.

The commitment of the U.S. military and allies to the F-35 leaves Boeing facing the prospect of a future in which it doesn't manufacture fighters, as orders for the F/A-18 and F-15 dry up, according to the Wall Street Journal. Boeing's defense unit, the paper reports, is shifting its focus to other types of aircraft, including military versions of commercial jets.

F/A-18 production could end in 2017, although the company may slow production to keep the line running longer in the hope of acquiring new customers. Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing, Defense, Space & Security, told the Journal that he believes F/A-18 production can be sustained through the end of the decade.

In 2013, defense accounted for 38% of Boeing's total revenues of $88.6 billion, down from 56% in 2003. The Journal reports that Chadwick expects to keep defense revenues above $30 billion with an increased emphasis on services and support.

Meanwhile, reports Reuters, Lockheed Martin and engine maker Pratt & Whitney expect to determine the root cause of the F-35 engine problem by early next month and to implement a fix on aircraft already in service early next year.

The Journal has a slide show of Boeing military aircraft and their production over the years that's worth a look if you have a subscription.

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