The cost of the F-35 JSF program seems to only get higher

As lawmakers and military officials continue to show disappointment in prolonged budget issues and delays in the next-generation joint strike fighter program, the Department of Defense said the program could end up topping $382 billion.

Each F-35 Lightning II aircraft, which will be available for $92.4 million, continues to struggle due to budget problems.  This is a "cradle-to-grave" estimate -- meaning the cost from manufacturing to retirement. The inflated price tag is related to contractor labor costs and higher overhead rates.

"I hope that the taxpayer never has to pay this bill.  It should come down," a senior defense official noted during a recent press conference.  Another official said," I cannot foresee any scenario where those numbers become a reality."

Lockheed Martin said the JSF estimates are based on the F-A/18 and F-22 Raptor programs, which isn't fair since the fighter programs are so much older than the F-35 program.

In the most recent round of problems, Pratt & Whitney's slow development of the F135 engine has caused the House Armed Services Committee to offer funding for the GE/Rolls-Royce F126 engine.

At the end of May, the U.S. Navy said it will extend the lifespan of the F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft to help reduce an anticipated fighter gap.  The Navy and Lockheed said it's possible the F-35C JSF will be available starting in late 2016, but that date seems less likely.

Lockheed will have to continue defending the program, especially now that the rising cost of the F-35 needs to be re-certified by Congress.  The DoD still plans to purchase as many as 2,457 F-35 fighter craft over the next 25 years, but that number could change if spending isn't more closely watched.

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