US misses F-35 lifetime costs target by $450 trl

US misses F-35 lifetime costs target by $450 trl

WASHINGTON - Reuters
US misses F-35 lifetime costs target by $450 trl

A US officer shows naval flight students a US Marine F-35B Joint Strike Fighter Jet during a roll-out ceremony at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, in this Feb 24 photo. REUTERS photo

The U.S. government now projects that the total cost to develop, buy and operate Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be $1.45 trillion over the next 50-plus years, according to a Pentagon document obtained by Reuters.

The Pentagon’s latest, staggering estimate of the lifetime cost of the F-35 -- its most expensive weapons program -- is up from about $1 trillion a year ago, and includes inflation. While inflation accounts for more than one-third of the projected F-35 operating costs, military officials and industry executives were quick to point out that it is nearly impossible to predict inflation over the next half-century.

They also argue that no other weapons program’s costs have been calculated over such a long period.
The new cost estimate reflects the Pentagon’s proposal to postpone orders for 179 planes for five years, a move that U.S. official say will save $15.1 billion through 2017, and should avert costly retrofits if further problems arise during testing of the new fighter, which is only about 20 percent complete.

The Pentagon still plans to buy 2,443 of the new radar-evading, supersonic warplanes, plus 14 development aircraft, in the coming decades, although Air Force Secretary Michael Donley last week warned that further technical problems or cost increases could eat away at those numbers. The new estimate, based on calculations made by the Cost Assessment Program Evaluation (CAPE) office, includes operating and maintenance costs of $1.11 trillion, including inflation, and development and procurement costs of $332 billion.

The Pentagon office has a lower estimate for lifetime costs, although it is still around $1 trillion, according to two sources familiar with the estimates. The new baseline forecasts the average cost of the F-35 fighter, including research and development and inflation, at $135 million per plane, plus an additional $26 million for the F135 engine built by Pratt & Whitney.

In 2012 dollars, the average cost of each single-seat, single-engine plane, including R&D, would be $112.5 million, plus $22 million for the engine.

This is the first year that the government has separated out the cost of the plane and the engine, and comparison figures were not immediately available. Lockheed Martin has said the average cost of the plane will be around $65 million to $70 million, based on 2010 dollars.

Costs may rise further


Lockheed Martin declined comment on the new estimate. Lockheed spokesman Joe LaMarca said the company still believed the new fighter jet would cost the same or less to operate and maintain than the seven legacy warplanes it will replace.

Winslow Wheeler, a critic of the program, predicts cost growth on the program will be even greater than estimated by the Pentagon, given the complexity of the F-35 fighter.

Lockheed is developing three variants of the new plane for the U.S. military and eight partner countries: Britain, Australia, Canada, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, Norway, Australia and the Netherlands.

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