CDI: Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter Drops Another Load

This week some Pentagon officials morphed into street cleaners as the Defense Department’s F-35 “Joint Strike Fighter” left yet another load of unpleasantness on the street for all to see. It came in the form of major new revelations from Jason Sherman at InsideDefense.com with an article titled “DOD Warns Congress JSF Costs Could Skyrocket To $388 Billion.” The new, higher cost estimate intensified the sticker shock for the already unaffordable F-35. The word went out from the “E” ring of the Pentagon; reporters and others – including myself – were told it was all “shaky math,” “garbage,” “totally wrong.”

It was also directly from a DOD report, sent to Congress, obtained by InsideDefense.com and other reporters, and released to subscribers at the InsideDefense.com website.

The “Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) F-35 As of December 31, 2009” repeated some earlier information about F-35 costs, but it also dropped a new load of unwelcome new data. Previously, Congress had been told that the average price for each F-35 would be $79 million to $95 million, with primary emphasis on the lower figure.

But the F-35 SAR report made painfully obvious two devices used to understate the cost.

First, as some aware observers – none of them present at recent congressional hearings – already knew, the $79 to $95 million band of unit cost did not include all expenses, specifically, about $50 billion in research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) expenditures.

Second, that band of cost was stated in “base year” dollars. “Base year” dollars are normalized to an early date in the program’s history and, therefore, understate the amount of dollars that actually must be appropriated. “Then Year” dollars are the ones you want to know. They are the amounts that Congress actually appropriates.

The Pentagon likes both “base year” dollars and cost estimates that ignore huge portions of program outlays; they help to get the camel’s nose under the tent with low ball price estimates.

Careful reading of the SAR report (for example, on pp. 36) reveals that including the RDT&E expenses yields a total program unit cost of $97.1 million for each F-35. But, it’s still in those worse than useless “base year” dollars, specifically fiscal year 2002 dollars. (If you can find BMW car dealership that sells cars in 2002 dollars, buy one; it won’t cost you more than a Volkswagen.)

The F-35 SAR reveals that $97.1 million in base year dollars translates into $133.6 million in actual future appropriations (“then year” dollars).

But, there’s more in a well buried passage, on page 37. There, we are told that a new “complete Independent Cost Estimate is in process. The Department expects this analysis will result in increases to the stated [unit cost] estimates. The projected range of estimates are $97 – $115 million … in Base Year 2002 dollars.”

So it looks like the $97 million, or rather the more honest $134 million, unit cost estimate is about to be overtaken by events. We’ve got the new, higher estimate ($115 million), but it is only in those worse than useless “base year” 2002 dollars. Nowhere do we find in the report the more straightforward “then year” dollar cost for the $115 million. Luckily, however, eight grade math and ever-helpful inside the Pentagon sources both provide the same answer: $158 million per aircraft. So, it’s not $79 million per aircraft; it’s not $134 million; it’s $158 million. That’s twice what the Pentagon was pretending last month.

Those same sources, and the same math, enable us to convert the old – soon to be over taken by events – cost for the entire program to what insiders in the Pentagon now expect: $388 billion, or what Sherman reported in his April 6 article. It was this figure that caused the major E ring eruption. However, on April 8, officials in the Pentagon admitted to Sherman, and the public, he was basically right – “in the ballpark.”

Even more unfortunate for the after-parade Pentagon street cleaners, there’s a lot more in the F-35 SAR report.

As Sherman also reported in another article on April 7 (See “DOD: JSF Combat Radius Shrinks, Logistic Footprint Grows As Design Matures”), the F-35 is beginning to go south on some of its performance specs. Specifically, the projected performance for range, payload, logistics requirements, and sortie rate of the various F-35 models are beginning to deteriorate from the originally stated “baseline” performance estimates and program objectives. It is a process that will continue as the original F-35 performance promises meet reality in the form of flight testing, now only 3 percent complete.

Finally, pages 25 and 28 of the SAR report show what Pentagon mythmakers are pretending they will pay for future F-35 production. For the next Pentagon budget proposal for fiscal year 2012, the unit cost – counting only production, not RDT&E, costs – appears painfully reasonable: the Navy will produce 21 copies of its F-35 versions for $5.1 billion. That calculates to $243 million each. That is what Navy F-35s are actually costing these days.

But the so-called “learning curve” promises to make Navy F-35s much more affordable.

For 2013, the Navy plans to pay $188 million for each of its F-35s.

In 2014, it plans to pay $173 million.

In 2015, it will be $156 million

$118 million in 2016.

Tables on Air Force production show the same trends.

Nirvana! The learning curve permits the advocates to pretend that the average unit price can be lowered to rescue the program from even higher costs than those now projected: As we get deeper into production, optimization of production processes will result in cheaper and cheaper aircraft. That’s what happens in mass production, they argue.

There is only one problem: modern combat aircraft are not Chevrolets. For them, the learning curve barely exists. As Franklin “Chuck” Spinney has shown us for aircraft like the F-14, F-15, F-18, Apache Helicopter, V-22 Tilt Rotor, B-1 bomber, and even the less complex F-16 and relatively simple A-10 in the 1980s and 1990s, the projected “learning curves” were always vastly overstated. In fact, Spinney’s analysis, which was based on official data in the Pentagon’s budget planning and execution documents, showed that the Pentagon could not even use learning curves to predict the costs of runway cleaners and pickup trucks bought on the commercial market.

Once you look at the details, this denial of the prevailing conventional wisdom becomes perfectly obvious. A major reason is that there never exists a stable design to mass produce. Engineering change proposals, upgrades in the form of new production blocks, product improvements, and new requirements from the user never end. Modern tactical aircraft procurement programs never really allow a design to stabilize to enable “mass production” or any meaningful optimization of production and of the resulting cost. For this and several other reasons, the learning curve is mostly illusion.

In the case of the F-22, the closest design and fabrication cousin to the F-35, the learning curve actually went backwards late in production; the unit costs went up. That is by no means new — the same thing happened with the F-14 and the F-15. For the late models of the “mass produced” F-16, the block 50 model, unit costs were about twice the amount of early production models.

When the non-learning curve starts to become obvious in the F-35, the latest total program cost, $388 billion, will be a thing of the past, a long gone whisper of what never could have been.

Costing more and doing less is the standard profile for failing Pentagon programs. The F-35 is becoming today’s poster for what in the 1980s Washington Post cartoonist Herblock depicted as a $600 toilet seat hanging around the neck of then Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger. The modern day cartoonist for the Post, Tom Toles, would be entirely correct to give us a depiction of new millstone for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the F-35.

Perhaps, if we are lucky at some future date, when still more F-35 cost growth is first extracted from a user-unfriendly DOD document by an enterprising journalist, the E ring of the Pentagon will not lunge for invective, but will appreciate that it is being told something it didn’t know and that others in the building didn’t want them to know.

Alas, perhaps someday.

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41 thoughts on “CDI: Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter Drops Another Load

  1. Holiday here in the USA. Just read yesterday that the F-35 was going to cost $88 million each as long as sequestration does not slow down the procurement. This was in a Air Force magazine in Barns and Noble. I understand that was not a deep analysis but many are marching along thinking that.

    Right now a couple of dozen F-35 in Ukraine would be a very helpful thing. Or a couple of dozen F-22. They need to think on those terms… because a few of those aircrafts would end any land advance immediately.

    • Don’s be so sure of any of these points. Cost is an estimate that will almost certainly turn out too optimistic, as for Ukraine, strategic bombers did nothing to slow Nazi advance.

  2. It would seem that the Pentagon is deliberately hiding the real costs of the F-35. On one hand, we hear that they are “making progress”. On the other hand, there are pretty credible reasons to believe that there may be some serious problems afoot.

    Anyways, it looks like the F-35 has been having some serious issues with sustaining its sortie generation rates. That and the software is reportedly a lot worse than anyone is saying.

    The way things are going – hope that this thing never sees combat against a competent foe.

  3. “Anyways, it looks like the F-35 has been having some serious issues with sustaining its sortie generation rates. That and the software is reportedly a lot worse than anyone is saying.”

    Yes but those problems where flagged a long time ago and one would hope that by now they have been corrected including one where the computer would override the pilot and shut the plane down preventing it from taking off. It was pretty crazy that it happened at all. Of course the critics seized that and made it look like a deal killer.

    And yes, they are making progress in terms of how they measure progress.

  4. Hmm.. no html codes. Could you delete the first two comments and just clear this third one through moderation.

    So it looks like the $97 million, or rather the more honest $134 million, unit cost estimate is about to be overtaken by events. We’ve got the new, higher estimate ($115 million), but it is only in those worse than useless “base year” 2002 dollars. Nowhere do we find in the report the more straightforward “then year” dollar cost for the $115 million. Luckily, however, eight grade math and ever-helpful inside the Pentagon sources both provide the same answer: $158 million per aircraft. So, it’s not $79 million per aircraft; it’s not $134 million; it’s $158 million. That’s twice what the Pentagon was pretending last month.

    A fundamentally dishonest comparison.

    $80 million is the target flyaway cost of the aircraft. Current flyaway cost is around $120 million.
    (For the F-35A.)

    So costs need to fall by around 33% to achieve that target. With production rate schedule to more than triple, from around 30 aircraft/year right now to well over 100/year at full production that’s very achievable.

    Unit Acquisition Cost which includes spares & support is a little short of $180 million currently which too needs to fall by about a third to around $120-130 million. Very doable.

    F-35 program cost *may* skyrocket to $388 billion. For 2,443 aircraft that works out to be about $160 million (incl R&D).

    Also for perspective,

    FRANCE

    – Program cost $64 billion (€46 billion) for 286 Rafales
    – ‘Production cost’ $145 million
    – Includes 20% VAT
    – Order cut to 225 units
    – Unit program cost = $200 million.

    BRAZIL

    – The Rafale offer to Brazil was $8.2 billion for 36 aircraft or $227 million each.
    – SAAB clinched the competition with a $4.5 billion offer for the Gripen. $125 million each.
    – Both offers include ToT and license production.

    OMAN

    – BAE’s contract for 12 Eurofighters and 8 Hawk trainers was valued at $4 billion+. Breakdown of that figure has not been disclosed but the unit cost will be huge regardless.

    INDIA

    – Original budget for 126 fighters was round $11 billion.
    – Recent estimates for the Rafale put contract cost at well over $20 billion.
    – Munitions contract separate. Upto $30 billion including weapons according to some reports.
    – Deal currently in limbo.

    AUSTRALIA

    – $11.5 billion for 58 F-35As.
    – Includes $2-3 billion in weapons costs.
    – Unit cost $150-160 million incl support (rider – weak estimate).

    SOUTH KOREA

    – Boeing offer – 60 F-15SE ‘Silent Eagle’ for $7.7 billion, $130 million each. Rejected.
    – $6.8 billion for 40 F-35As
    – Unit cost $170 million

    This isn’t a true apples-to-apples case but certainly disproves the myth of the ‘huge costs’ attributed to the F-35.

    • You are indeed comparing apples to oranges. Unit program cost for the Rafale and Typhoon is 200 million USD per aircraft. Unit flyaway cost for the F-35 is 182 million USD for A, 252 million USD for B and 299 million USD for C. Comparing apples-to-apples gives us unit flyaway costs of 93 million USD for Rafale C, 110 million USD for Rafale M, and 130 million USD for Typhoon Tranche 3. So, F-35A is twice as expensive as an equivalent Rafale variant, while F-35C is almost three times as expensive as an equivalent Rafale variant. And Rafale itself is far from being cheap.

      Costs for export are unrepresentative as in the F-35s case, most of it is still paid for by US taxpayers, and prices for both Rafale and Gripen include 19,6 million USD VAT. You also have to know what exactly is included in the deal, as it includes more than aircraft themselves.

      • ‘Unit Flyaway Cost for F-35 is 182 million of A’

        I don’t know whether you got that from Wikipedia, but that statement is false. Plain and simple.

        That $180 million is the procurement cost. NOT flyaway cost. (Check the budget statements.)

        (Procurement Cost: https://dap.dau.mil/acquipedia/PublishingImages/AQPLEG/LCCC.jpg)

        Flyaway cost is $98 mil + $14 mil (for engine). Approx $115M overall. Slightly over $120 mil including retrofit costs.

        Also note, Rafale production will remain steady at 11 units/year. F-35 production will triple by 2018. With hugely increased volumes (and maturing production) costs are bound to fall and fall sharply.

        Export costs are important from an export customers perspective. And criticism against the Rafale’s costs are mounting in its only export market so far i.e. India.

      • Old figures. In any case, you’ve clearly misread them.

        Your source (http://www.saffm.hq.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-120210-115.pdf) does NOT mention ‘Flyaway Cost’ anywhere.

        What you’re thinking is the ‘Fly Away Cost’ is actually the ‘Procurement Cost’ (you’ll also notice the allocation for ‘Advanced *Procurement*’ there).

        This is the appropriated budget for 2014: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R43323.pdf

        $3227.3 million for 19 F-35As. About $170 million (not including long lead expenditure).

        ALL under a *procurement* heading.

        So I would strongly suggest you amend your articles to reflect that fact.

      • Yes advanced procurement will also contribute to the flyaway cost but these aren’t flyaway prices being quoted in the budget document.

        And if the procurement cost is approx $180 million (which includes support and spares), flyaway cost CANNOT be ‘minimum’ $150 million..

        Unit Flyaway cost is known only from the LRIP 7 contract which puts it at about $115 million for the F-35A.

        At full production, it’ll beat the Rafale and Eurofighter on flyaway costs while not being too far off from the Gripen-E either.

        • “At full production, it’ll beat the Rafale and Eurofighter on flyaway costs while not being too far off from the Gripen-E either.”

          That is basically impossible simply due to its complexity.

      • $184 million? Appropriations budget, Table A-10. $3227.7 million for 19 F-35As. Equals about $170 million.

      • Complexity has relatively little to do with it. Its simply a question of volumes.

        Current Rate of Production: 30 units/year
        Current Fly Away Cost: $115 million

        Final Rate of Production: upto 150 units/year (5 fold increase)
        Final Fly Away Cost: $85 million (25% fall)

        That’s a hardly an over-optimistic fall in price given the expansion in the production rate.

      • Modern aircraft do not have time to settle in design since it is constantly in flux, and in any case they are so complex that only a very modest price drop can be expected. Rafale’s costs stayed more-or-less level through production, while Typhoon’s increased.

        “Current Rate of Production: 30 units/year
        Current Fly Away Cost: $115 million”

        Yet above you said that it is 170 million USD. So which is it?

      • Rafale or EF production has NOT increased since they entered service. It would be futile to expect a fall in cost. The F-35 production on the other hand is scheduled to increase at least five-fold and its cost consequently is bound to fall. Basic economics.

        Where did I say that the flyaway cost is $170 million? Read it again.

        CURRENT FLYAWAY COST: $115-120 million
        CURRENT PROCUREMENT COST: $170 million (plus AP)

        FINAL FLYAWAY COST: $75-85 million
        FINAL PROCUREMENT COST: $120-130 million

        Procurement cost includes spares and support.

        • No modern fighter aircraft’s cost has decreased in any major way during production. F-15, F-16, F-22, Typhoon, Rafale… every single one of them had their costs increased, not decreased.

      • Which of ^^ aircraft programs saw a comparable increase in the production rate?

        As far as the F-35 is concerned,

        LRIP 1 F-35As costed about $250 million which fell IIRC to $140 mil for the LRIP 4 and is now down to about $120 mil with the LRIP 7 (all fly away costs).

        Production goes up, price comes down.

        • And when LM had to quote real prices in Korea, F-35s bid was undercut by Typhoon, which itself is rather expensive, and the F-15, also not a cheap aircraft.

          Are you sure that prices you quoted included the engine?

  5. ‘Give me figures for the F-16. ‘

    Well, YOU stated that the costs for the F-16 increased irrespective of production rate, the onus therefore is on you to support that..

    ‘Also, costs can only get reduced if design is settled, which F-35s design isn’t.’

    So as the F-35’s design is ‘settled’ the costs WILL get reduced further.

    • “Well, YOU stated that the costs for the F-16 increased irrespective of production rate, the onus therefore is on you to support that.. ”

      I was talking about modifications during production, F-16A costs 30 million in FY2012 USD, F-16C costs 70 million, and different blocks of the same model also have different prices. You can’t expect the F-35 to be any different.

      “So as the F-35′s design is ‘settled’ the costs WILL get reduced further.”

      IF it is settled.

      • F-16A – > F-16C is a case of three decades worth of defence inflation (which runs ahead of normal inflation) plus upgraded capability. Its got NOTHING to do with scaling up of production volume as in the case of the F-35. Now if you were comparing low rate production costs for the F-35 vs full rate production cost, it would have been a viable argument.

        ‘IF it is settled.’

        I don’t know how closely you’ve been following the program. All that’s left is some air frame stiffening to improve durability and a few relatively minor modifications to the fueldraulic and electrical systems. No question of ‘if it is settled’ as far as the design is concerned.

      • Now if you were comparing low rate production costs for the *F-16* vs full rate production cost, it would have been a viable argument.

      • “I don’t know how closely you’ve been following the program. All that’s left is some air frame stiffening to improve durability and a few relatively minor modifications to the fueldraulic and electrical systems. No question of ‘if it is settled’ as far as the design is concerned.”

        And some “minor” modifications for problems that yet have to be discovered, and future upgrades for necessary and unnecessary capabilities that military decides the F-35 should have…

  6. ‘And when LM had to quote real prices in Korea, F-35s bid was undercut by Typhoon, which itself is rather expensive, and the F-15, also not a cheap aircraft.’

    The Korean budget was originally about $7.5 billion for 60 aircraft. That’s $125 million/unit, inclusive of spares and support. Since SK is already a big F-15 operator, Boeing might have been able to meet that budget but its highly unlikely EF Gmbh could. Even Austria paid more (back in 2003) for its old Tranche 1 Typhoons.

    ‘Are you sure that prices you quoted included the engine?’

    I am. $98M for the engine plus $12-15M for the engine. Total fly away cost about $115M. I rounded it off to $120M to be on the safer side.

    The procurement costs given in budget documents include everything from spare engines to simulators.

      • It is very relevant because we don’t know for a fact that it was cheaper. Its proposal was disqualified but the actual size of its contract bid has NOT been revealed so far.

        • Korea is complicated. It is not just money. The Koreans will fight any war shoulder-to-shoulder with the USA and the interoperability of their aircrafts with those the USA will be using is very important plus they have a peculiar need to strike the launch platforms of the nuclear missiles that the north has which dictates the type of aircraft that they prefer. The Typhoon is a formidable machine but it might not have been as good in some of these roles as the F-35 will be.

          Another factor is that they probably have had some first hand experience with the F-22 that the USA has and that might have sold them on the value of stealth. We do not know but we have to assume that they know more than we do about that.

          I do agree that the F-35 prices are going to drop with production increases since now the plant is under-utilized but there is already a huge offering on the works both here and in Europe for add-ons and weapons for this aircraft. As long as the fees charged for integrating them to the aircraft (software) remain reasonable this aircraft will have the potential to field a huge selection of weapons. These add-ons are expensive and will be added to the base price so who knows what an F-35 will cost in the future when the buyer is done adding things to it.

  7. ‘These add-ons are expensive and will be added to the base price so who knows what an F-35 will cost in the future when the buyer is done adding things to it.’

    Five European munitions: UK; Meteor, ASRAAM, Storm Shadow. Norway/Australia: JSM. Turkey: SOM. That’s it.

    Also block 4 onwards the F-35 will field a ‘Universal Armament Interface’. Its operational on the F-15E. All nations will be able to modify their equipment for compatibility independent. After a ‘fit-check’ on the F-35, ALL F-35s will be able to use it. Simpler and cheaper means to adding a new weapon.

    See here: http://www.defense-update.com/products/u/uai.htm

    • There is some work being done in Europe on anti-ship missiles that will fit the F-35 internally. They are not completely finished yet but it is one more in a growing list. Armament makers see the F-35 as a significant market opportunity and are adapting.

        • Yes. Kongsberg. Sorry I did not catch that.

          Being talked for the LCS too. It is a very interesting concept with no radar.

  8. Much is being said here about how the F-35’s cost will go down once it’s in production. It is also often stated that the more that are ordered, the cheaper it will be. The reality is that there is no guarantee of either, as past aircraft programs have demonstrated. Here are 2 historic examples.

    “The Pentagon Paradox” lists the first such example on Page 311, where we learn;
    In 1975, three years before the F-18 made it’s first flight, the Navy estimated that the total program unit cost of the F-18 would be $9.6 million. The Navy subsequently increased the number of aircraft it planned to purchase by 70 percent, from 800 to 1366. However, contrary to the usual claims that if quantities increase, unit prices decrease, the unit price of the F-18 actually increased 64 percent [see table 11-4, page 224]. This phenomena is known as the Quantity Discount Corollary to the Pentagon Paradox: The unit price is proportional to the number purchased. Or, stated differently, the more you buy, the more each one costs.
    (Emphasis added)
    Thus, production units clearly have no bearing on program cost, which evidently has a life of it’s own.

    The second example is the F-22 Raptor. It had also been claimed that the F-22’s production would reduce it’s unit cost.

    The last SAR report while the F-22 was still in production documented that between 2005 and 2009, $4.6 Billion had been spend on the F-22;
    http://www.acq.osd.mil/ara/am/sar/SST-2009-12-31.pdf

    However, F-22 it also shows the base year as being 2005. Needless to say, that’s not the year the F-22 went into development — nor is it the year it entered production. Backing up to the September 2005 SAR, we see that $99 Billion was spent on the the F-22 (then called the “F/A-22”) Program up until then. Yet once again, the “baseline year” is 2005;
    http://www.acq.osd.mil/ara/am/sar/2005-SEP-SST.pdf

    Thing is, that’s still neither the year the F-22 entered production or development. So what happens when you go back to an SAR that precedes the 2005 “base year”? In the June 2005 SAR, the baseline year magically resets to 1990, but the program cost is still $99 Billion;
    http://www.acq.osd.mil/ara/am/sar/2005-JUN-SARSUMTAB.pdf

    Now here’s where it gets interesting. Changing the baseline year of a program deletes all of it’s prior program costs from the SAR record. So how is it $99 Billion before June 2005 and $99 Billion after as well?

    That’s easy — it’s two different sums of $99 Billion, which total $198 Billion. More than twice as much money was spent on the F-22 as what you probably believed.

    Back on topic though, the F-22’s first delivery was in January of 2003, so let’s go back in time to the SAR released right before that, in December 2002;
    http://www.acq.osd.mil/ara/am/sar/SARST1202.pdf

    Again, it says only $99 Billion. Thus, what happened is that the USAF/LockMart tag team didn’t touch the F-22’s Program Cost for 2 years. Then they instantly doubled it, by sweeping $99 Billion spent under the rug, and swapping it for a newly-added $99 Billion so no one would notice.

    Needless to say, the fact that the F-22’s Program Cost was secretly doubled in a single year, two years after production began, doesn’t bode well for other DoD programs.

    It’s not like we didn’t see it coming, either. That the F-22 would become drastically more expensive in production was predicted all the way back in 1998;
    http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/docs/980326-f22.htm

    But there’s more. In 2013 alone, the F-22’s maintenance, support, and upgrades cost another $21 Billion — and the last F-22 rolled off the assembly line years prior;
    http://www.acq.osd.mil/ara/am/sar/SST-2013-12.pdf

    Thus, the F-22 is not only more expensive in production, but it still continues to grow in unit cost even after production has been terminated. The F-22 won’t cease to consume a sizable chunk of the defense budget until the last one has has been broken-up in the scrapyard.

    These lessons have taught us two harsh truths about the F-35;
    1- Precedent proves that increased production entails increased unit cost. It is entirely capable of increasing at the same percentage of production order increases.
    2- Precedent also proves that getting a weapon into production is no guarantee that it’s future expenses will go down. That the F-22’s Program Cost instantly doubled 2 years into production is pretty damned conclusive.
    3- Precedent proves that weapon systems can still continue to emit crippling expenses after their production has ceased. Given that the F-22 cost $21 Billion in only a single year, it’s not a big stretch to anticipate that by 2023, it will have cost far in excess of $117 Billion just to maintain it — more than it cost to *develop* it.

    In conclusion, it is entirely possible for the F-35’s price-tag to increase above it’s current $200 Million Unit Cost; it is entirely possible for the F-35’s Program Cost to double from it’s current $1.5 Trillion to $3 Trillion in a single year; and it is entirely possible that the F-35 will cost an additional $3 Trillion just to *maintain* over it’s first 10 years of service.

    If the DoD is serious about operating it into the 2050s as claimed, they’ll have to convince Congress to cough-up an additional $15 Trillion over that time-span — 10 times what it cost to develop the F-35.

    • Blacktail, these weapon systems are never really finished… the F-16 is constantly being up-graded and while you can say that its development cost as well as the manufacturing plant for the airframe are fully amortized the problem are the electronics and weapons that are changing and increasing in cost. This is true of even the B-52 which of ground radar, etc. B-1 too. All of them are having upgrades done and if you reorder one with all the upgrades in it they will be far more expensive.

      So cost has to be view in that perspective.

      With the pentagon if they develop a technology for one aircraft program and pay for it in that program that technology becomes “free” for any other future program that decides to use it thus lowering the cost of those future aircrafts. In private business the new aircrafts would have to share the cost of the technology and thus would lower the cost for everyone. Because the government does not accounting that way some programs are savagely over budget and others seem like bargains but only artificially (Virginia Class Submarines using Sea Wolf technology is an excellent example of this!)

      I do not know of any one that is unbiased and analyzes cost well.

      And if you want a new aircraft to be cheap just use technology that has been developed for other aircrafts and it will be dirt cheap.

      .

      • And if you want a new aircraft to be cheap just use technology that has been developed for other aircrafts and it will be dirt cheap.

        This is exactly how the F-16 was developed, and for that reason it was the only warplane ever procured by the US military that was cheaper than the aircraft it replaced. The rules were bent only for Fly-By-Wire (used on the Mirage 2000 that was already in service), a variable camber wing (first used in the 1930s), and aerodynamics that had Dynamic Instability (which was not a “technology”, per-se). Even more importantly, only proven technologies and simple design attributes were allowed.

        The result was an aircraft that (initially) cost only $10 Million ($15 Million soon after, when the “Add-On Committee” was finished undermining the design), a development span of less than 5 years, and a unit cost half as much to fly as the F-15 Eagle, with almost double the sortie rate. It’s still one of the top fighters in service today, in a large part because of these accomplishments.

        Contrast that with the F-35. It’s been in development for over 15 years — longer than the gap between the F-16’s initial design proposal, and when the 1000th airframe rolled off the assembly line.

        • Same with the F/A-18 which was budgeted at less than $10 million initially and then proceeded to grow in cost by leaps and bounds.

          The F/A-18 was replacing other aircrafts from Vietnam War vintage that where simpler and did cost less than that and it would have been impossible to put through congress a legislative project for acquiring replacement for them that was worth more than that. From that small base its cost kept going up and up and now a Super Hornet can be $60 million, $80 million even $90 million depending on what you load it with.

          I do believe that at some point the USA will develop a low weight aircraft like the F-5 for sovereignty enforcement and air superiority. Many countries need something for that and they have nothing modern to turn to but a Gripen or a T/A-50. I also see a lot of used F-16 being sold and upgraded for this use (seen it in the Middle East).

          I think Western Air Forces need to band together and develop a cheap light weight fighter that they all can use for these sundry missions.

      • What is interesting is that more complex aircraft tend to:
        a) be more expensive
        b) stay in development longer
        c) be less effective
        d) have shorter service life
        than simpler ones. So there actually is no good reason to use extraordinarily complex systems.

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