The Pentagon is backing a plan to craft an international coalition of F-35 buyers for a "block buy" of the single-engine fighter from Lockheed Martin to boost near-term production numbers in exchange for a discount, according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the U.S. program executive officer for the $398 billion effort.

This is likely to be among the discussions Bogdan and Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall will have later this month with counterparts at the Farnborough air show outside London. The F-35B is slated to make its international debut with a flying display at the Royal International Air Tattoo starting July 9 and Farnborough the following week.

Such a buy could include those fighters that partner nations have approval from indigenous parliaments to purchase without asking for additional funding. Bogdan specifically mentioned Norway, Australia and the Netherlands as partners who have gone through "tough decisions" to meet these criteria. Canberra has approval for 72. Norway has approval for 52 and the Netherlands is cleared to buy 37. The United Kingdom has officially announced buy-in for four F-35s.

"They know how many airplanes they are going to buy now [and] they don’t have to go back and ask their parliaments" for additional resources to get them, Bogdan told Aviation Week during a July 3 interview.

Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall and Navy acquisition executive Sean Stackley have directed the F-35 Joint Program Office, run by Bogdan, to come up with "incentives" for partners wiling to buy into a block purchase; this will come in the form of a discounted price, Bogdan says. He was not specific on numbers.

However, the target price for an F-35 from low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot 7 was about $100 million; that cost is slated to creep downward with each lot.

The block buy would provide airframe prime contractor Lockheed Martin and engine prime Pratt & Whitney with a stable order book, allowing for certainty in their supply and labor requirements.

Increased buy numbers also are critical to reaching a price of around $85 million per F-35, a goal Bogdan has backed. He says this is attainable once the fighter is in full-rate production, slated for 2019.

The international buy would likely span three years from 2016-2019; the orders would be added to LRIP lots 9-11, Bogdan says.

From 2016 to 2019 is a period during which development will be wrapping up – if the program stays on plan – but before the Pentagon commits to full-rate production. So the plan is for partners to add numbers to the modest annual Pentagon buy from 2016-2019, with the Pentagon boosting its own orders thereafter to maintain a stable buy rate. Kendall has said that he’s already open to the idea of a mutli-year U.S. buy once the aircraft is in full-rate production.

Lockheed has long sought an international block buy, and it was pursued unrelentingly by former company executive Tom Burbage. The proposal was unsuccessful earlier in the program because the company was pitching it too early in the development cycle. "We were not ready at that point in time," Bogdan said. "We are getting closer to that point in time [and] this is an expression of confidence that our partners have in this program if they are discussing with us now how can we lock into buying" the aircraft.

South Korea and Israel are getting closer to firming up orders. Seoul has selected the F-35 and plans to buy 40 – 20 fewer than earlier plans, owing to the cost premium of buying the stealthy platform. A formal letter of acceptance is expected by year’s end, Bogdan says.

Likewise, Israel is likely to firm up a buy in the coming months, he says. Only with Israel, it will be an add to the existing order of 19 aircraft.

Singapore is likely to buy in, though it will do so after committing to an upgrade plan for its F-16s.

Bogdan says Lockheed must continue to focus on program execution in the meantime. "The absolute best marketing tool Lockheed Martin and Pratt can have is to perform on this program," he said. "As slow but steady process is being made on the F-35 you will find more and more people in earnest will become interested in the F-35."