Monday, May 21, 2012

The cost question: which is more expensive - keeping what we have or the F-35?

That's the question that everyone should be asking when talking about the F-35.  Instead we've seen a constant focus on only the cost of the F-35 with no consideration of the cost of an alternative scenario.  For the most part, critics have been remiss in providing any context to the F-35 numbers because doing so would essentially destroy their argument that the F-35 is an outrageously expensive program we can't afford.

In fact, the truth is, it's a program we can't afford not to complete. That's because the alternative - keeping the 4th generation aircraft we have - is an unacceptable solution for many reasons.


On the cost side alone, keeping the current fleet of fighter jets would cost us 4 times that of the F-35. Over the same time period and using the same cost assumptions used for the F-35 the current fleet of aircraft is 4 times more costly.  The Lexington Institute ran the numbers:
The $1 trillion figure to sustain the F-35 was based on assumptions such as a 50-year life span, a relatively high inflation rate over that period and an oversized and lavish basing and support structure. Using such assumptions, we at Lexington calculated that the Pentagon’s current fleet of fighters would cost around $4 trillion to maintain for the same period of time.
That is an untold story to this point.  While it has gotten some press, it hardly compares to the ubiquity of the 1.4 trillion dollar cost of the F-35 in articles critical of the program.  Rarely, if ever, do you see the 4th generation cost estimate included in the same story as the F-35 cost.  The reason should be obvious.

It should also be understood that never before has the Pentagon used cost figures pushed out that far (i.e. 55 years).  Why it did it in this case has been widely discussed and even solicited some rare pushback from Lockheed Martin.  Considering the 55 year time frame, it is not difficult to imagine many major programs which might also see spectacular cost numbers generated.  Imagine the total cost of 11 aircraft carrier battle groups over 55 years.

Any chance that might top a trillion dollars?

When considering the stories put out by critics, one should always seek out full context when considering them.  Rarely will you find it.

The advanced technological advantages of the F-35 far outweigh those of our current 4th generation fleet.  The only real argument the critics have is cost.   But that's only a credible argument if you don't know the cost of maintaining our current fleet of fighters, isn't it?



  1. 1. Quoting the Lexington Prositute as an unbiased reliable source? Give us a break, they are bought and paid for advertisers for Lockheed.

    2. Have you read this from OSD Cape: F-35 is about 1.5 times more expensive to operate that the aircraft it replaces. See page 16 :

    3. In this USAF presentation on F-35 O&S costs it essentially says Lockheed made up their cost saveing without basis.

    3. Unit costs right now are 3X legacy and there is a lot of smoke and mirros claiming to get it less the 2X eventually.

    F-35 is going to cripple the DoD with both acquisition and O&S costs.

  2. Assumptions and costs are what they are ... using the same assumptions DoD used to cost out the F-35 were used to cost out the 4th gen fighters. The results are 4x the F -35cost.

    It makes sense ... 6 to 7 different aircraft types mean 6 to 7 different parts streams, maintenance channels, etc. Not to mention the large numbers of upgrades that will be necessary a) to keep the old airframes flying and b) try to keep them competative in a 5th gen world.

    With the F-35 you'll have a streamlining spare pools and supply chain management, infrastructure, etc. Pilot and maintenance training is also consolidated and optimized.

    Sorry, not buying the propaganda of the critics. It simply makes no sense logically.