How Much Will JSF Cost?

How Much Will JSF Cost?

When the Pentagon’s top buyer appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee, most observers expected Ash Carter to tell lawmakers just how much each F-35 costs and how much the plane is likely to cost over time. That didn’t happen. Winslow Wheeler, a bipartisan conagreassional defense budget expert now at the Center for Defense Information, penned a detailed analysis and commentary picking apart the Pentagon’s numbers and their underlying assumptions. One area sure to spark disagreement is his discussion of F-35 production. This plane is supposed to be the first  advanced fighter built on the closest thing to an assembly line since World War 2. The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin say it will not be hand built, as was the F-22. But Wheeler argues that stealth materials will make it virtually impossible to build F-35s relatively quickly and efficiently. Winslow’s commentary follows. — Colin Clark

Ashton Carter, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and Christine Fox, director for Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, presented new unit cost estimates for the F-35 during two recent hearings in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.  Those estimates are extremely optimistic and very incomplete.

The F-35 unit cost estimate is incomplete because the $114 million to $135 million “Average Procurement Unit Cost” (APUC) Carter and Fox announced, in “then=year” dollars, to buy 2,443 aircraft does not include any research, development, test and evaluation money for the F-35.  The best available estimate of those additional development costs is about $60 billion (to add to the estimate of $278 to $329 billion to produce the F –35s).  Including those costs would add about $25 million to the cost of each aircraft, making the Carter-Fox total program unit cost somewhere between $139 million to $160 million.

It may be that Carter and Fox are unwilling to testify to a total program unit cost because they are unwilling to inflict further “sticker shock.”  Presumably, the official, more complete numbers will be made available later in April when the Defense Department releases its new Selected Acquisition Report (SAR), now about 18 months late.  What Carter and Fox thought they had to gain by delaying the more complete revelation does not merit speculation; their existing (incomplete) production unit cost estimates have little to do with reality.

The 2011 budget request for the F-35 plans to buy 43 aircraft for $8.654 billion in procurement funding.  That makes for a production unit cost for the 2011 buy of $201 million per plane.  In his March 24 testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Carter stated that the unit cost “will decrease significantly” from this level as purchases increase and production processes “optimize.”  This is consistent with conventional wisdom that there exists a “learning curve” for aircraft production that progressively shrinks unit cost steadily as production proceeds.  Thus, Carter and Fox argue, F-35 unit production costs will come down from the currently unsettlingly high number of $201 million each down to the $114 to $135 million band.

The last 50 years of DOD aircraft cost history, especially of “stealth” aircraft, do not treat the Carter-Fox estimates — and the prevailing conventional wisdom –very politely, however.  The absence of any progressive “learning curve” in unit cost has been thoroughly demonstrated by the analysis of Franklin “Chuck” Spinney, using actual procurement data.  (Read this  work at http://​www​.chaliventures​.com/​L​i​n​k​s​_​t​o​_​R​e​p​o​r​t​s​/​L​i​n​k​s​_​t​o​_​I​d​i​s​k​.​h​tml.)  In the case of the F-35, we can test the likelihood and amount of “learning curve” reduction in the unit cost by comparing the F-35 at this point in its program history to its closest relative, the F-22.

Indeed, the F-22 program is an excellent precursor for the F-35.  Both aircraft are “fifth generation” aircraft that combine “stealth” with complex long-range radar systems (the F-35 adds an extra emphasis on air-to-ground functions). Both rely heavily on extensive computerization (the F-35 includes significantly more software).  Both programs employ concurrent development and production (the F-35 schedule incorporates even more production before the end of development).  Both are from the same prime contractor and to a large extent the same aviation bureaucracy in the Pentagon (the F-35 adds two bureaucratically required complications: STOVL and carrier operations).  There are no other contemporary US aircraft with a more closely related design, production, and bureaucratic heritage.  Due to its more complex nature, the schedule and cost of the F-35 can be expected to experience more delays and increases in the future than the F-22 did.  In other words, using the F-22 “learning curve” should underestimate future F-35 developments.

Based on annual reports from the office of the DOD Comptroller, “Program Acquisition Costs by Weapon System,” showing annual appropriations for F-22 production, we can track the annual amounts paid for F-22 production.  Some interesting points emerge:

First , unit procurement cost for the F-22 roughly leveled out, with little cost reduction (learning) thereafter, by the fifth production year of the program.  Across all F-22 procurement, the average unit cost based on actual appropriations calculates to $197 million per copy.  At year five, the unit procurement cost was essentially the same: $201 million per unit.  (Note also, at that point in the program, year five, a total of 54 F-22’s had been acquired.)

Second, toward the end of the program, the learning curve went backwards as unit procurement costs went back up.  When the learning curve did so, it was during the three year period of the F-22’s “Multiyear Procurement Buy,” which is thought by conventional wisdom to reduce costs, not increase them.

Using the same data from the same sources, we can conclude the following on the F-35:

First, since the second year, F-35 unit procurement costs have roughly leveled off at the same levels as for 2010 and 2011, $227 and $201 million per copy, respectively.

Second, by production year four (2010), 58 units have been produced, which compares to the 54 F-22 units that had been produced when that program achieved relative production cost stability.  If you argue the more complex F-35 requires more production experience to effect “learning,” the 101 units produced by the end of 2011 should easily suffice; thereby making the unit production cost $201 million per copy.

Carter, Fox, and other advocates of the F-35 will contend the F-22 cost experience is irrelevant.  First, the F-35 will see a much longer production run than the F-22, affording time and opportunity for learning and optimization of production – the old learning curve argument. Second, they will lean on how well they are solving the currently horrendous F-35 production problems: that is, all the out of station work; missing, late, and non-fitting components; redesign, etc., etc., etc. pointed out by the Government Accountability Office, the Defense Contract Management Agency, and the Independent Manufacturing Review Team: A litany of problems just like those of the F-22 production line.  Surely, they will say, once this legion of problems is addressed, we will see more efficient, cheaper production.

Not so fast.  Addressing many of the current assembly line problems assumes a stable design for the F-35.  We are a long way off from that; we may never get there.  (Indeed, we never got there with the F-22 and are still modifying produced units.)   Not only have recently uncovered design fixes not yet been incorporated into production, but there are certain to be many modifications imposed on the aircraft design as the F-35 contorts through is initial flight testing, now only 3 percent done.  In other words, a stable enough design to produce “optimally” is years off.

Moreover, once the current production “glitches” and fixes based on test flights are resolved, the production turbulence is not over.  As Spinney has pointed out for the F-18, F-16 and other aircraft, the changes never stop.  Engineering change proposals, upgrades in the form of new production blocks, product improvements, and new requirements from the user never end.  The F-16 is now in a “Block 50” modification, which about doubles the cost of the early block F-16s.  Modern tactical aircraft procurement programs never really allow a design to stabilize, a primary reason why Spinney found the “learning curve” to be illusory.

A downward learning curve for the F-35 is likely to be an even greater illusion; it will have no assembly line in the paradigm of World War II production.  The fabrication of stealth aircraft is inherently unsuited to assembly-line production – something I learned when I visited the Lockheed Forth Worth plant to observe the infinitesimally precise, hand-labor intensive riveting for the F-22 mid-fuselage section (essential to meet the stealth requirement).  Just riveting a single F-22 mid-fuselage costs 30,000 man-hours of hand labor.  An additional stealth cost burden is getting the stealth skin coatings right.  From the moribund Advanced Cruise Missile to the F-117 to the B-2 to the F-22, each and every stealth creation has had serious problems meeting its radar cross-section thresholds.

Overall, completed F-22s required almost $200 million in modifications in the 2010 Air Force budget alone, an expense that will continue and very probably grow.  It is this kind of ongoing turbulence that ensures the likely growing nature of future F-35 production unit costs; just for it to remain at $201 million per copy would be extraordinary.

What of the 2,443 F-35s for the US and the 730 for allies now scheduled?  The simple answer is that such a long production run will not occur.  The DOD budget has no room for the significant increase in annual production spending that the F-35 plan requires, even if the unit cost does not increase.  Inevitably, the annual production quantities will be squashed to a level the budget can accommodate; one expert predicted to me the annual buy will have to come down from 80 or more to 50 or less.

Indeed, for the last half century, higher than anticipated unit costs have led to production stretch outs which inevitably lead to further cost growth.  That is the inexorable “death spiral” that underlies progressively smaller production runs, higher costs, and shrinking, aging forces.  Nothing the Carter-Fox team has done is changing that.

The process has already begun.  Just this week, based in large part on the admitted $114 to $135 million unit cost, Denmark deferred its decision to replace F-16s for two years.  The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway and Australia are all witnessing controversies that are likely to delay and/or truncate their F-35 purchases.  But most importantly, at home in the US, factions in the US Navy are openly horrified at the crushing costs of the F-35.  That, together with traditional Navy distaste for Air Force-dominated programs, may well lead the Navy to back out of the program, s it did in past decades with naval variants of the F-111 and the F-16.

So, the question is not whether F-35 production will shrink, but by how much.  Publicly admitted unit costs will go up; purchases by allies and ourselves will go down.  The costs will increase further, and so on.

F-35 unit cost is far more likely to stay around $200 million per copy, or to go up, than it is to reduce to the levels Carter and Fox now predict.

It also worth remembering that the $200+ million unit cost anticipated here is incomplete.  An accurate sticker price includes the total cost of development, testing, facilities and other factors amortized across the ultimate size of the fleet.  With the fleet size shrinking by some currently unknown, but very substantial, factor, the unit cost for the total program is sure to grow to even more horrifying levels.

Whatever that final unit cost may ultimately be, to predict it now will surely be met with gales of derisive laughter from the advocates of this ongoing disaster — gales that will last only until the actual bill arrives on their doorstep.

Something between $250 and $300 million?  Start laughing.

Join the Conversation

Time for the Europeans to leave the ship before the rats come in.
We anticipated difficulties, either in the UK or in IT,DK, NO, NL… but NEVER of that scale.
We also try to estimate the total cost of acquisition for our country and our results are simply …the same: between $190m and $215m
The problem now is: how to escape the spirale?

Cancel the F35. Build more F16,F15, and F18. Already in production, current electronic upgrades make it as capable as the F35, and is by far cheaper than this golden piece of shyte the pentagon wants to build.

Cancel the F35. Build more F16,F15, and F18. Already in production, current electronic upgrades make it as capable as the F35, and is by far cheaper than this golden piece of shyte the pentagon wants to build.

Personally, I don’t think its possible to escape the spiral once it starts.

This is the same DOD acquisition team that can’t bring tanker acquisition to closure. They are in the process of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with their EADS extension gambit.

Why would this program be any different?

At least admit the error in closing down the F-22 line!

Good Afternoon Folks,

I guess the question really comes down to this, do we have a military or do we by the F-35.

I wonder how ready an AF commander would to commit a quarter billion dollar aircraft in to harms way?

I don’t see how anybody could support buying the F-35 at these prices and as we all know during the life of a contract inflation alone will escalate these prices.

Byron Skinner

The procurement profile for 2,443 F-35 does not take into account the maturation of combat UAVs. Once those systems become operationally effective, the F-35 will probably drop down to about 1,200. The tradition of cutting aircraft buys as prices rise will at least have a backup this time to fill the capabilities gap it normally creates.

It’s a catch 22 if you ask me. The Pentagon and Lockheed fouled up the whole fifth gen fighter generation. We are now paying through the nose for vastly less aircraft than the previous generation, becuase we have no fall back plan.

Where’s the media criticism for Gates and the other DOD leaders who pushed for a nearly all F-35 fighter fleet across three different services? The F-22 became a whipping boy for the media, a symbol of greedy, unnecessary “pork barrel” spending. And while there are valid, reasoned arguments against the need for a huge F-22 fleet (such as Russia and China being projected to lag far behind in numbers of 5th generation fighters, and competing needs such as spending on domestic issues), it was the stupid memes that dominated the public debate. Arguments like “the F-22 hasn’t been used in Iraq or Afghanistan” (when it achieved IOC in Dec 2005) or “the F-22 is just air-to-air, the F-35 is multirole” (ignoring the fact that the F-22’s stealth, supercruise, JDAMs, and SDBs makes it great for penetrating SAM defenses). It was a bunch of amateurs arguing with catchphrases, yet that kind of shallow analysis swayed public opinion.

The F-22 was never going to be a numerous fighter, whether the Air Force got its “required” amount or not. It wasn’t meant to be; the F-22 was designed as a high-end, no-compromises air-to-air dominator. The F-35 was supposed to be our very good, but AFFORDABLE strike fighter, to fill out the rest of the air fleet. Now the F-35 is costing twice as much as it was originally intended to…it FAILED one of its primary design objectives. They won’t be buying nearly as many F-35s now, unless the defense budget swells by some ridiculous amount (which won’t happen). Are we looking at a greatly reduced fighter fleet, or increased production of far less capable 4th generation fighters?

Where is the media outrage? How can a collosal screwup like this, if not outright deception, be allowed to pass? Instead, out of the few articles I’ve read on this subject so far, people are still agreeing with Gates that the F-22 was a “Cold War relic” and that the F-35 is “too big to fail.” The F-35 may be big (the most expensive project in DOD history, way to put all your eggs in one basket), but it has already failed in a major way even if it’s an excellent fighter that’s second only to the F-22.

“high-end, no-compromises air-to-air dominator”

Um, not really. They compromised on the F22 by giving it the ability to hold bombs (bigger, heavier) and significantly shortened its combat radius vs the aircraft it is supposed to replace. In your first post you ridiculed those who said “The F-22 is just air-to-air…” but then went on to call it a “no-compromises air-to-air dominator.” Which is it?

“The F-22 was never going to be a numerous fighter…”

When the F-22 program was started in 1992, it was originally supposed to produce 800 aircraft. After 14 years of development less than 200 were fielded.

” …about $77 million per copy.“
–Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Feb. 2008.

You know what I’m getting at, so don’t nitpick technicalities. Obviously, every design has some compromises. The F-22 is still peerless in air-to-air, while also having air-to-ground capability.

Even 800 aircraft wouldn’t be enough to make up even half of the USAF, so obviously the plan was to fill out most of the fleet with something else. 381, 243, or whatever other number of F-22s that’s been suggested over the last few years are also relatively small numbers.

The F-22 was always supposed to be the high-end star, not the bulk of the USAF. While the F-22 is not exactly a model of program management either, my point was that it wasn’t a huge failure to meet one of its program’s main objectives. Like having an “affordable” fighter that’s now pushing $200 million per plane.

Good Evening Folks,

Both the F-22 and the F-35 are vastly over priced. It was right to cancel the F-22 and the F-35 should also be canceled.

Contrary to popular belier here the general public could care less about either of these projects, the are tired of the Wars and think that defense spending is way to high.

To the general public F-22 and F-3.5 are old camera settings if they are anything. The mood out there is to cut spending and the defense department is not exempted.

I would say that even in military friendly San Diego it would be a hard sell for the EFV or the F-35 at the prices we are seeing here on the buzz. I would think politically it would be very hard for any member of congress to vote for either of these projects, especially with the “Tea Party” folks out there.

It would appear that the costs of the F-35 alone would pay for a major chunk of the ten year projected cost of the Healthcare Bill passed last weekend.

Byron Skinner

Defense and social spending proponents need to come back to Earth, and learn to live without some of the things we feel we absolutely need. The country has not had a balanced budget since 1957 and all I still hear is the same inane banter about social spending vs defense.

Both need to be cut drastically.

that sure, the large majority of european don’t cancel the prog just for by US pressure for save this market.
today when one plane cost $100mil that was to much for the great majority of country in this world and sometimes USA give that for example (against rafale) for sell their f-16.

As a lurker for many months here, I’ve noticed an inverse relationship between stridency and expertise.

why did we build a “joint” fighter? isn’t it dangerous to share manufacturing secrets with foreign nations? Also, isn’t it dangerous to be dependent on other nations for the manufacture of war material? what if one of the nations allies with an enemy and decides not to produce their part? woops. not a good idea to “share” or at least not a good idea for US, but good for the other nations.

The cost is too high for both F-22 and F-35. How about just letting the airforce and navy start to design and produce their own 5th and 6th generation aircraft. That will bring down the price since there will be no middle man and salesman price. It will just be the navy’s and airforce material, equipment and labor cost. Some country are doing it this way to produce their aircraft.

At the same time it will create millions of jobs to manufacture it.

A very good observation! I’ve always been a student of detailed analysis to get to the underlying program dynamics. You get an A.

The F-35 was supposed to be about 60% common for basic parts among the USAF, USN, USMC variants. Commonlaity is probably down to about 30%. Commonality was also supposed to be the big money saver at a time when building separate airplanes was unaffordable. The Pentagon would never, though, even consider the more reasonable case of building just more of the tried-and-true aircraft they already had (F-16, F-16, F/A-18), but with upgraded capabilities. That would have keep the air fleets larger and more ready than they are today.

So, abandon a complete, mature design (F-22), and a design that they’ve been working on for years (F-35), for a several designs that don’t even exist? You realize that that would lead to more costs, as well as well as years and years (if not more) of development?

I’d say just buy a thousand of F-22 and a thousand of F-35 if the price is right, then the next time around let the navy and airforce manufacture it with a newer design of 6th geration aircraft. It seems they (navy and airforce) already know the design and knows it works. I myself was a Design Engineer. As long the expirience Design Engineer knows what he is doing. It would’nt take years. I’d say months to a year for new design. Manufacturing this newer planes may take time specially if it comes by the thousand.

Even 30% parts commonality is still better than the current parts commonality between the AV-8B, F/A-18C/D and F-16… which the only parts commonality they have is generic clamps, screws, bolts, washers, nuts, packings, etc. Even then there’s still a bunch of exclusive specially-designed clamps, bolts nuts, etc. All in all it probably adds up to be less than .01% parts commonality between those three airframes.

The cost to sustain an aircraft program (parts, support equipment, training of personnel, etc) is exponentially more than the actual cost of buying the jets. That kind of parts commonality would severely cut down the logistics cost across the entire DoD, and allows a common baseline introductory training program for the aircraft maintainers across the services.

Also, the F/A-18, F-16 and AV-8B were designed with planned obsolescence. Meaning they are designed to have a successor ready to start replacing them after 10 years of front-line service, be relegated to the National Guard and training units at 15 years, and completely phased out after 20–25 years of service. These airframes are pushing past 30 years now, which is making it more and more difficult (read: expensive) to maintain them. The U-2 and B-52 are pushing past 50 years of service… the U-2 in particular is proving to get harder and harder to sustain, especially with parts non-availability an issue (due to parts no longer being in production).

The F-35 on the other hand was designed with the uncertainty of a successor, meaning it would be much easier to maintain and sustain should we keep it around for 50 years.

I was nitpicking to point out that both programs would probably be cheaper and have a shorter development time line if they stopped trying to pack every conceivable function into the aircraft and instead concentrated on making it great at a couple things instead of okay at many. There have been complaints on this site that the F-22 really isn’t that spectacular because it has early 1990s computer technology. Well there’s a reason for that. It was designed right after Desert Storm. The F-22 could have been a badass air to air fighter years ago in greater numbers and at a better budget if they focused on the essentials of being an air to air fighter.

I recognize your points from an earlier entry you made. But let me ask you this. Why should the National Guard get the aircraft after 15 years? With the integrated force structure we’ve seen in OEF/OIF, should they have first line equipment in their inventory to start? I guess it’s an affordability issue. Or that the governors can’t get the Congress to fully fund what the Guard needs.

Why does anybody even bother to listen to/read anything Wheeler says/writes? How many times does he have to be proven wrong?

First & foremost the numbers he begins with DO include ALL research, development, test and evaluation. The most recent PROJECTION numbers for average unit production cost are $80–95 million (FY2002 dollars or $96.36–114.43 million in FY2010 dollars using the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator). The $114–135 million comes from the same PROJECTION of $278–329 million for TOTAL DEVELOPEMENT & PROCUREMENT divided by 2443 units.

And sorry but you can honestly compare the cost reductions of the F-22 procurement rate (which never exceeded 24) with the 230 per year full rate production of the F-35.

Don’t you mean the PROJECTION of “the 230 per year full rate production of the F-35.”?

Actually, the F-35 program is the first fighter aircraft acquisition program in USAF history in which the ANG and AFRC are a key player in the initial aircraft deliveries. So yes, the Guard and Reserve components will be receiving their aircraft alongside the Active Duty component rather than receiving the F-35’s later on as hand-me downs.

The projected JSF cost in 2008 was 77 million each, which now 2 years later has morphed to $137 or almost double the price. And considering the dismal amount of flight testing the semi-flyable test aircraft have had, just how many other technical issues will be discovered in the coming months?

Lets review how the price hike is impacting some of our “international partners”:

Netherlands: Reduced number of F-35’s to be purchased from 85 to 50.

Denmark: Postpones purchase of the 30 F-35’s.

UK: MoD expected to reduce the number of F-35’s purchased from 150 to between 70–100.

Israeli: Reducing purchase from 25 aircraft to 20.

With full production now delayed to 2016, what will the price tag look like in two years?

So how off is Wheeler on the price now? $200 million looks pretty much expected at this rate.…


Good Morning RSF,

Go for your nitroglycerin tablets RSF, I agree with you on all points. Both the F-22 and the F-35 are legacy platforms. Money spent here regardless of the cost is wasted.

Instead of investing in these manned platforms a fraction of that money could be used to move the X-45 and the X-47 platforms and move them along faster. The trend is to expand the battle space, the platform is far less important the weapons that can reach out farther and touch someone. The eye ball to eye ball dog fight like jousting is part of military history.

You don’t need a man in the cockpit to position an air to air weapons with in 500Km of an enemy and release it. The Predator and Reaper have shown you don’t need a man on the cockpit to support ground troops or engage enemy target in the ground attack mission.

At the prices that we are seeing now for the F-35, and we are still not finding the light at the end of the tunnel, the amount of F-35’s that the services want to is simply out of the question.

Factoring in mandatory contract incentives and bonuses that will kick in, in 2011, Wheelers number per unit for an F-35 this week is about $227 million a copy. For the price of two F-35’s the Navy could by an LCS, for the price of one it could buy a Corvette. The Air Force could by 15–20 Reapers or a tanker. Where is the value here?

With the money saved on canceling the F-35 development on an unmanned the bomb truck called the B-3 could start sooner.

Even if the F-35 is bought it.s primary mission like that currently of the F-22 will be to follow airliners around the domestic air spaces.We have plenty of aircraft already doing that mission.

Byron Skinner

Cancel the F35. the pentagon recent track record with weapons procurement/ development is horrendous. I say embrace, people like Winslow Wheeler, and heed their advice.

The point some continue to miss is that when you cut numbers the cost goes up. It costs the same to R&D for three aircraft as it does for three thousand but those inital R&D costs don’t get spread out as far so the unit costs rocket. “Stealth aircraft have a history…” Well, DUH. Cut a planned production of B-2s from 132 down to 21 and you see what happens. Cut F-22 production from a planned 750 to 187 and you see what happens. Only the truly uninformed could think that a stealth aircraft would cost the same to R&D as a non-stealth aircraft, and then when you cut the numbers, guess what happens? As for those calling for F-35 cancellation and continued production of variuous F-teens I ask, “why aren’t we still flying P-51s, they’re cheaper and work just as good, right?” Cancelling the F-35 won’t eliminate the need to produce a new fighter and starting over would be even MORE expensive because you’ll have to pony up those R&D dollars all over again.

Lockheed are not production airplane builders. They don’t have the corporate skill to run an assembly line. They have done a great job at skunk works aircraft but except for the C-130 they have had a run of difficulty. The C141 was retired earlier than expected because of fatigue, the C-5 needed extensive strengthening to keep it in the air and by all accounts is a great airplane now. The Martin contribution is…? The last Martin airplane was a?

I seem to recall the C-117 has come off pretty well as have the F/A-18 and F-15E and now the F-15SE as the F-15 for Singapore …is there a trend we see here?

This and the F-22 went to the wrong builder.

The C-141 wasn’t retired earlier because of engineering faults. It was engineered to the specs that the Air Force wanted. The problem was that the Air Force overused the C-141 and accumulated far more flight hours than originally intended. It’s been pointed out years ago that the C-17 is looking to suffer the same fate as the C-141. The F-15, F-16, F/A-18 and A-10 have already undergone Service Life Extension Programs due to overuse and lack of a successor, and are already looking at more SLEP’s because F-22 production has come up short (to replace the F-15) and the F-35 (to replace the other tactical fighters) is still not online and is looking to suffer the same fate as the F-22. SLEP can only do so much in the face of overuse. Programs such as the U-2 and B-52 last 50 years because the airframes undergo less flight stresses as compared fighters and face less aggressive sortie schedules.

Lockheed Martin’s contributions include, but not limited to: C-121, C-130, C-141, C-5, P-38, P-80, F-94, F-104, F-117, F-16 (and the F-2), F-22, P-3, S-3, SR-71, U-2

I don’t mean to absolve the contractor of all blame, but its not only the contractor at fault here. This program reeks of the F-111 all over again.

Good Afternoon Folks,

To sferrin. I agree with you statement that when you cut numbers you increase the unit costs on a specialized items such as jet fighters, the problem is the USAF/USN/USMC the prime purchasers of the F-35 line have yet to make any real cuts in the numbers to be bought and the foreign purchases are and always have been a best guess estimate at best.

The reality is that countries with the political power and economies are not buying into the newest generation weapons systems in any large numbers. Both China and Russia are buying new generations of aircraft in the low hundreds and emerging political and military powers like India, Israel, Brazil and the Ukraine are buying in less then hundred quantities, this also goes for Tanks and ADM systems. Military ship orders outside the US is in the 4’s and 5’s on low rate productions.

In short the cost benefits of a robust military vs. diplomacy and economic alliances to a country are just not there for existing and emerging political powers. The day of saber rattling and regional arms races, even for India and China are no longer popular.

There are no any large land powers who are threats to their smaller neighbors. World wide defense industries are shrinking or in the case of old Soviet plants just closing and new low cost suppliers who can produce small numbers of reasonable quality platforms and systems, Sec. Gates 80% solution, are taking over the defense industry world wide.

The reality is, since 9/11 the way war is being made and by who is making war has drastically changed, and has rendered these platforms and systems pointless and useless.

Byron Skinner

“Only the truly uninformed could think that a stealth aircraft would cost the same to R&D as a non-stealth aircraft, and then when you cut the numbers, guess what happens?”

Yet those hawking the aircraft repeated in briefings over and over that the acquisition cost would be that of an F-16 and cost less than an F-16 to sustain.

The big problem is producing a bunch of mistake-jets before we have prototypes that are reasonably well tested. And as for the F-35 (just like legacy jets) it will need the F-22 to survive high end threats.

I’d disagree that “these platforms and systems” have been rendered “pointless and useless”. It may be that they will be pointless and useless in the near future, however.

For years it has appeared small and (relatively) inexpensive weapons systems are likely to prove the match of the most expensive and technologically advanced weaponry. Maybe not on a one-to-one basis, but in aggregate. Net effect being that a force with less expensive weaponry — perhaps augmented by terrain or numbers — may be able to effectively defend against a much more expensively equipped force. Iraq and Afghanistan do not prove this point but would suggest there is truth to it.

But until the U.S. has devoted itself to the ability to be self-sufficient in resources (for at least limited time period) and to develop robust systems to prevent attacks from external forces, we will likely have to maintain a credible offensive capability which implies at least a modest number of technological weapons platforms.

As it is, however, our technological attempts are becoming so mind-bogglingly complex as to become almost inherently unreliable and potentially vulnerable to subtle sabotage and/or neutralization. I know that some of the complexity is meant to add robustness but it is not clear that this is really succeeding or that it will succeed in the future.

I think that the future of combat will lie with the relatively light fighters with superior intel, training, and tactics. Mobility will be key — but must be textured so that the frontline mobility is relatively inexpensive and numerous.

Increasingly, large and expensive targets will be GOOD targets and little more. We’re not quite there yet, but give us a decade or two and trying to fight as we do today — may just get us killed very expensively.

Once again Byron Skinner is making up imaginary numbers to bolster his overly-optimistic argument for an all-UAV force.

“You don’t need a man in the ****pit to position an air to air weapons with in 500Km of an enemy and release it.”

What air-to-air weapon has a range of 312 miles? The vaunted Phoenix had a range of 100 miles. Also have no idea why you feel the need to block out “cockpit,” that’s just bizarre.

“The Predator and Reaper have shown you don’t need a man on the ****pit to support ground troops or engage enemy target in the ground attack mission.”

Could the Predator or Reaper carry the payload that a manned aircraft can, move as fast, or survive enemy defenses? They fly at will because they’ve been used against weak enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan who’ve already been devastated by manned aircraft.

“The eye ball to eye ball dog fight like jousting is part of military history.”

And neither the F-22 nor the F-35 are designed primarily for close-range dogfighting, although they are also very capable of doing that.

Good Evening Folks,

To E L P. Yes stealth is expensive, but with no radars out there I guess all aircraft are stealth. With the advent and operational fielding of the JADAM and in evolutionary variants, just the act of turning on a radar is suicidal.

During the ten years of no fly the US got so good at taking out S-300PM1’s that they stopped using HE ordinance and switched to inert practice bombs. During the 2003 invasion notably absent was any attempt by Saddam’s forces to use their S-300PM1 systems.

To HasBeen. The condition you describe certainly did influence events of the first half of the 20th. Century but today with mostly open and free trade the reliance on foreign countries for strategic materials and for the production appear and to provide markets for American goods at this time appears to be promoting peace. The income from the US, EU, China and other large industrial area for these materials and good for a significant part of many developing countries economies.

The wars of the 20th. Century drained a lot of the worlds resources, wealth, intellectual capacity and population, the world is still pay the price for the recklessness of the last century. In short war is no longer what come to mind when two or more countries have a problem.

Few countries can afford to win a war, current example the cost of that “small war” in Iraq that according to Under Sec. of Defense Paul Wolfowitz would most likely pay for itself. I enter as exhibit number one.

Right now the national security threat to all of the developed industrial is the non state groups that base their power on religious ideology or perhaps not to far down the line large drug organizations too, who have a lot on money and want to expand their markets or fight each other over existing markets or just decide they want some land, a country. To deal with either of these threats seem not to require a large number of heavy weapons platforms and large numbers of F-22’s, F-35’s, the FCS, etc and other current defense systems now in development by the United States.

Byron Skinner

“To E L P. Yes stealth is expensive, but with no radars out there I guess all aircraft are stealth. With the advent and operational fielding of the JADAM and in evolutionary variants, just the act of turning on a radar is suicidal. ”

JDAM is a guidance kit for bombs. Conventional fighter aircraft would get shot down by SAM and AAA systems without EW support. Even then, anti-air tactics used in Vietnam and Kosovo included keeping radar off and on the move until aircraft were visually spotted. From there they’d wait until the aircraft flew past exposing it’s vulnerable aft side, then they’d activate their radars and fire off a missile. Most EW aircraft are too slow to escort non-stealth aircraft, with the exception of the F/A-18G Growler. F-15’s, F-22’s, the upcoming F-35 and F/A-18E/F’s with AESA radars possess moderate EW capabilities.

The SAM system that shot down an F-117 in Kosovo worked because it operated it’s radar with unusually long wavelengths, which sacrifices detection range but allowed the F-117 to be briefly seen. However detection range wasn’t an issue because American aircraft were re-using ingress and egress routes into the battle-space, making them predictable. The S-125 system fired missiles from a very short range, 8 miles out. This incident could have been avoided had there been a variance in ingress/egress routes.

Stealth, SEAD tactics, SAM’s, and access denial tactics are all about reducing your opponent’s tactical choices and forces them to expend resources to deal with the threat. If we didn’t have stealth aircraft, EW aircraft, or just aircraft in general, it gives our opponents less to worry about, more resources to commit to other things, and overall greater freedom of movement.

“During the ten years of no fly the US got so good at taking out S-300PM1’s that they stopped using HE ordinance and switched to inert practice bombs. During the 2003 invasion notably absent was any attempt by Saddam’s forces to use their S-300PM1 systems.”

Iraq didn’t have S-300’s. They tried to acquire them in 2002 prior to the invasion, but couldn’t.

“Right now the national security threat to all of the developed industrial is the non state groups that base their power on religious ideology or perhaps not to far down the line large drug organizations too, who have a lot on money and want to expand their markets or fight each other over existing markets or just decide they want some land, a country. To deal with either of these threats seem not to require a large number of heavy weapons platforms and large numbers of F-22’s, F-35’s, the FCS, etc and other current defense systems now in development by the United States.”

One should keep an eye on ALL threats, not just the most immediate. Only keeping an eye on the enemy directly in front of you provides an opportunity for enemies from the rear. In this sense we should always be ready for COIN operations, hybrid opponents, force-on-force conflicts, etc.

No we shouldn’t cancel the program. People like Winslow Wheeler attack any defense programs and propose no realistic alternatives that improve or maintain our military capabilities.

eh.…have you read his book, America’s Defense Meltdown. Wheeler may be a bit polemic (and boorish) with is constant rants against the system, but the man has assembled senior planners/officers from all the services and has mapped alternatives to today’s programs.

The solution is 1000 F-22 and thousands of UAV.


Try comparing apples-to-apples. According to Michael Sullivan,‘s testimoney on Mar 11, 2010 the TOTAL PROCUREMENT COST of the F-35 in Mar 2007 was $231.7 million ($95 million each) & 273.3 million ($112 million each) in Mar 2010. That is a projected increase of ‘just’ $17 million each or 17.9%. Nevermind that the ACTUAL LRIP cost have been BELOW projections…

Wheeler is WAY off. He is STARTING with numbers that include everything he then adds.

Really, the F-22 only cost ~$135 Million per copy and Lockheed Martin hasn’t even completed the projected total of 187 aircraft. Now the F-35 critics want the world to believe the smaller and single engined Lightning is going to cost as much or more. Sorry, that is a “extremely” hard sell in my book.

That would be like saying the unit costs 2000 P-51 Mustangs would cost approximately as much as 187 P-38 Lightnings.

Sorry, the Math just doesn’t work.….……

The true is early development Aircraft and LRIP will be very pricey indeed. Yet, the price will drop considerably as production ramps ups. As it should.

Ooops. It’s been a couple weeks since the last price increase and schedule slip. Now new warnings that the price is going up again!


As Loren Thompson should now say: ‘The price increases are real but the progress is speculative’

$158.1 million APUC

“DoD now predicts that the jets will now cost between $97 and $115 million each in 2002 dollars, when development work is included in the price tag, according to the newly released SAR.

The planes could cost between $79 and $95 million per-jet, in 2002 average dollars, when costs such as R&D are not factored into the buy, the document states.”

$80 million per aircraft for the current estimated production numbers does not sound that bad. Perhaps cost control efforts can lower that further.

The Dutch parliament has voted to step out of the development fase (voted 20-05-2010). This means that no second test JSF will be bought.
Please take notice that we have elections on june 9th. The then new parliament could choose otherwise. But for now (and with the crisis and budget cuts) is seems that The Netherlands will not participate anymore.

There was yet another motion: the fundaments on wich the JSF was chosen to replace F-16 are dropped. There will be a new evaluation with new (updated) demands so the parliament will have to choose the successor of the F-16 again.

Amen, Byron. We would get more defense bang for our buck if we stuck with F-16’s, UAVs, and improved Info Ops, PsyOps, Special Ops, Counter-terrorism capabilities and more for the same cost or less than the F-35. DoD has failed, again, to STABILIZE a program in development, so that it’s worth the risk to proceed further. Try Again, DoD, and do better next time. A Shorter development cycle, integration of the current state of technology rather than reaching for the stars, and an affordable, stable project would be a good foundation from which to build a GOOD acquisition program. PS listen to your System Engineers and Cost Estimators next time, too.

Use the CONSUMER Price Index to inflate the Base Year Estimates for a military weapon system development and procurement costs? I don’t think so.

Is Air-to-Air combat so relevant that it’s even worth billions and billions of dollars? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier and cheaper to destroy or disable an enemy’s air force or their C2 ability on the ground?

I concur. I don’t agree with everything Wheeler.. or Skinner above might be saying, but they have many valuable points. We’ve got to do better than the current myopic, politically-oriented and save my job –oriented pie in the sky gold plated approach to defense that is the status quo.

Well it is 2012, I guess we can all safely say that we were wrong.


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