As Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest manufacturer for the defense industry, edges closer to launching the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, experts are predicting international buyers will outpace the United States and Pentagon in sales as early as 2014.
The increasing demand from international buyers comes in the wake of growing concerns of defense cuts, as the Department of Defense prepares for a possible $1 trillion to be slashed from the budget in January.
“The DOD, based on statistical environment issues, has not said… they’re not buying as many as they had in the program of record a few years ago,” said Robert Rubino, program director of the F-35 program in Lockheed’s Washington, D.C., office.
Sales of the planes remained fairly steady between 2010 and 2012, but by late 2013, the number of planes purchased by international buyers takes over the number of planes purchased by the Pentagon.
“As we maintain this partnership with our international partners, it’s important that we all work together to keep this profile,” Rubino said.
The F-35 is not scheduled to be completed until 2016, but countries across the Middle East and Asia have already signed contracts with the company.
So far, ten countries have purchased the jets, including Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Israel and Japan.
Japan and Israel are the two most recent consumers, purchasing 42 and 19 planes, respectively. According to Reuters, both South Korea and Singapore expressed interest in purchasing the planes, bringing the total number of countries with their eyes on the skies to 25.
The planes are expected to be delivered to the Royal Air Force as early as next week, and the Netherlands are projected to receive their planes as early as September, despite concerns surrounding contracts with Lockheed.
In the United States, the planes are expected to outfit the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert announced Monday that the Navy is not fully committed to the F-35, however, adding speculation that the Pentagon may be backing further away from the purchasing the fighters.
Manufacturing on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter first began in 2010. Lockheed has performed hundreds of test flights since manufacturing began, and six planes were delivered to pilots for training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida this morning.
The F-35 Lightning II joint strike force comprises the fifth generation of fighter jets and is expected to replace the F-16. With stealth capabilities, the plane has three variances and can perform ground attack, intelligence reconnaissance missions and air defense missions.