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US Department of Defense approves F-35 for full-rate production

The 36th F-35, delivered in 2014, was CF-19, the US Marine Corps' first F-35C carrier variant. The Milestone C decision has slipped for nearly a decade beyond initial projections, even as the production has continued. (Lockheed Martin)

The US Department of Defense (DoD) approved the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II to enter full-rate production, according to a 12 March announcement, even as deliveries remain suspended.

William LaPlante, the DoD undersecretary of defence for Acquisition and Sustainment, signed the full-rate production/Milestone C approval, allowing the programme to transition from low-rate initial production (LRIP).

β€œThis decision – backed by my colleagues in the [DoD] – highlights to the services, F-35 co-operative programme partners, and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers that the F-35 is stable and agile, and that all statutory and regulatory requirements have been appropriately addressed,” LaPlante said in the announcement.

β€œ[The Director, Operational Test and Evaluation] conducted [an] analysis of the results from initial operational test and evaluation and live-fire test and evaluation and delivered a comprehensive, combined report as required by statute to inform the Milestone C/full-rate production decision,” said Raymond O'Toole, Jr, the DoD's acting director of operational test and evaluation.

β€œWe are pleased with the formal declaration of full-rate production for the F-35,” Lockheed Martin told Janes on 12 March.

Though a significant achievement for any DoD programme, the Milestone C approval does not hold as much significance for the F-35 as others. Lockheed Martin already produces 156 F-35s per year, a rate that will remain unchanged following Milestone C, the company told Janes

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