Monday, April 22, 2013

F-35: Will it cost 10% more to operate than an F-16?

The preliminary answer, i.e. the answer using today's figures and for the time being, seems to be "yes".
The single-engine F-35A is expected to cost about 10 percent more to operate than the F-16 it is intended to replace for the U.S. Air Force and other international military services, according to U.S. government officials. USAF

Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, program executive officer overseeing the F-35 program, told Dutch lawmakers that the cost-per-flying-hour for the F-35A, which The Netherlands intends to buy, is $24,000, according to an Air Force spokeswoman.
So at this moment, we're looking at about $2,400 dollars an hour more.

Will that change?  Well yes, most likely.  And likely for the better.  For instance, we know that we are likely to have a new engine on the horizon for the F-35:
AFRL calculates adaptive technology will improve engine fuel efficiency by 25% over the F135 powering the F-35, increasing aircraft combat radius by 25-30% and persistence by 30-40%.
Obviously, that might save that 10%.  Then there's also this point to be considered:
Company officials had argued the cost of some subsystems, such as the electro-optical target system, or information technology systems used to support the aircraft, should not be included in the F-35 lifecycle estimate because they are not calculated in the price of operating legacy aircraft. 
Of course there are those who would argue that it should be calculated because it is indeed a part of the cost.  True.  But it is also a capability that doesn't exist on the F-16.  So is the addition of that capability worth "10%"?  My guess is it is worth much more.  If it provides an aircraft able to penetrate contested airspace an F-16 can't, then its worth may be incalculable.

Finally,  remember, this establishes a baseline number while the aircraft is still in development and testing.  It gives the manufacturer a target to achieve through efficiencies, etc.  10% isn't a very high percentage at this point when kept in context and compared to the capabilities the aircraft promises.

Be sure to watch how the critics handle the number.


1 comment:

  1. How are these F-16 cost per hour explained?