New Estimates Peg the Lifetime Cost of Lockheed F-35 Lightning II at $1.45 Trillion
March 29, 2012 11:21 AM
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Analyst says three fourths of cost increases come from the way the U.S. government estimates costs
The cost of F-35 Lightning II fighter program continues spiral ever upwards. The United States is now projecting that the total cost to develop, operate, and purchase the Lockheed Martin F-35 will total $1.45 trillion over the next 50 years.
notes the figures come from a Pentagon report that it obtained.
The $1.45 trillion estimate is up from the
roughly $1 trillion estimate the government used a year ago
. The new estimate does include inflation expected over the next 50 years. Military officials are fast point out that this is the first military program to be calculated over so many years and that expected inflation accounts for more than a third of the projected operating costs for the F-35 over the next half-century. The actual cost could be significantly less, or if inflation hits hard the program could cost more.
The new estimates also include the Pentagon's plan to postpone orders for 179 F-35 fighters by five years. In the short term that move will save $15.1 billion through 2017, but it also pushes the purchase further out when inflation will mean the aircraft will cost more.
Other than saving money, military officials and program managers hope that the five-year
will mean problems found in testing can be worked out before aircraft are produced in high numbers. The total Pentagon plan still has the originally expected 2,443 fighters being purchased. However, senior military officials have already warned that additional technical problems or cost increases in the F-35 program could change the number of aircraft government purchases.
The estimated cost per F-35 is $135 million for the airframe, and an additional $22 million for the Pratt & Whitney engine (this includes R&D and inflation).
Program managers for the F-35 argue that much of the reason for cost inflation and price overruns on the project continues to be due to the U.S. government changing how it estimates costs. The government has also begun splitting up the cost of the airframe and engine making direct comparisons to previous aircraft impossible.
Defense analyst Loren Thompson says that three fourths of the cost increases the F-35 program has encountered are directly linked to changes in the scope of the program and the way the government estimates costs. Thompson cites the fact the Pentagon initially planned the station the F-35 at 33 bases and then later change the number 49 bases. The government also originally calculated operating costs over 30 years and then chose to calculate them over 50 years. Costs could increase even more if partner nations cut orders for the F-35.
"The program costs appear to be rising much faster than they actually are because the government keeps changing how it calculates things," Thompson said.
recently hinted that it might consider cutting its F-35 orders.
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3/30/2012 10:19:41 AM
I don't want to defend the F35 program, which sounds like another Pentagon clusterf* that took on a life of its own and cannot be killed despite no longer serving the functions it was envisioned for in the first place. But, there's an old saying in the military: "You have to be prepared to fight the next war, not the last one." "Fighting camel people" was the last war. 50 years is a long time. The next war could be with an advanced superpower again, like China or a resurgent Russia or something. If you don't keep the defense industry busy doing *something* during that time, the expertise and technological base needed to build things like this in the future will erode. It's not an easy problem to solve, at least not cheaply.
Then again looking at the way our industrial base is crumbling anyway, it's hard to imagine the US being in any kind of financial condition to deter another emerging superpower like China in 30-50 years.
"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference
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