Any time the USAF or other branches of the armed
service need a replacement for an aging aircraft, the cost of the development
and maintenance are a huge budgetary issue for the military and lawmakers in
Washington. Two of the most expensive weapons programs in the last several
decades have been the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II.
The F-22 is due for an incremental
upgrade to its hardware and software that some officials say is already
behind on delivery and over its cost projections. The update in question is
called Increment 3.2.
Air Force procurement Chief David Van Buren told
members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, "The Increment 3.2 that
we're currently working on for the F-22 for our war-fighting customer is taking
too long to implement. We are working with the company [Lockheed Martin] to try
to speed that up and make it more affordable."
The cause of the delay in delivery stems from the
programming language used called Ada. The Ada language was once a DoD standard,
but the use of the language has waned in the last 15 years. Analyst Loren
Thompson from the Lexington Institute said, "It tends to impede quick upgrades
to the system to which it is the base software." Thompson also said,
"The affordability of any upgrade becomes debatable when you purchase a
relatively small number of upgrades."
The new upgrade is being applied to the 187
Raptors built by Lockheed, two of which have been lost to accidents. The
upgrade will allow the F-22 to carry the AIM-9x infrared-guided air-to-air
missile and the AIM 120D medium-range Air-to-Air missile and attack up to eight
different targets with the 250-pound Small Diameter Bombs. Lockheed is looking
for ways to reduce the cost of the upgrade right now.
The F-35 program is also again the center of focus
on costs. This time lawmakers and military commanders are looking at the long-term
costs of maintaining and operating the F-35 fleet. The
Pentagon has estimated that the cost to operate the F-35 fighters through 2065
will be more than $1 trillion.
Procurement Chief Ashton Carter said, "Over
the lifetime of this program, the decade or so, the per-aircraft cost of the
2,443 aircraft has doubled in real terms. That's what it's going to cost if we
keep doing what we're doing. That's unacceptable. That's unaffordable."
However, he noted that the massive $1 trillion
number can’t be taken at face value because management steps over the life of
the aircraft will bring costs down. Carter said, "I truly believe that we
can manage out a substantial number of the production and sustainment
There has been technology sharing between the F-22
and the F-35 with some stealth coatings developed for the F-35 being applied
to the older F-22 aircraft. The F-35 fleet was grounded in March when an in-flight
failure of the generator aboard a test aircraft occurred.