Monday, May 6, 2013

F-35: About those lifetime costs

Colin Clark at AOL Defense brings a little sanity to the discussion of operational costs, be they lifetime or flying hour.
The latest stab at estimating the F-35's costs will come May 23, when the benchmark Selected Acquisition Report is scheduled for release. Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the head of the F-35 joint program office, told the Dutch Parliament's defense subcommittee that a key component of the F-35's life cycle costs, cost per flying hour, may be $24,000, just 10 percent more than the F-16 costs. This estimate was developed by the Air Force, working with Fox's shop, the Cost Assessment & Program Evaluation office (CAPE).

But a direct comparison of just flying hour costs will not give you an accurate picture of the overall costs of any new airplane. Here's where we just begin to get at the fragile nature of cost estimates. First, comparing the F-35 to the F-16 isn't entirely apples to apples, given that one is stealthy and the other is not. Add to that the fact that Air Force isn't including the A-10 in the estimate even though the F-35A is designed to replace the A-10 as well as the F-16.
Or said another way, unless you know the basis of the cost estimate, it is practically useless when trying to make a comparison.  Clark intimates here that, in fact, the cost estimate may be high ... for the F-35.  If an "apples to apples" comparison was in fact applied and a combat configured F-16 (the natural configuration for an F-35) was used, we might see a slightly higher cost for the F-16, wouldn't we?

SMSgt Mac over at the "Elements of Power" blog gives us a little perspective on lifetime cost with a great graphic on a weapons system we've had for over 50 years:

Point?  If that weapons system was being developed today, what do you suppose would be said about the unit cost?   And, given that, can you imagine the estimated cost for the program 50 years out?

As detractors continue to use whatever they can find that they deem negative to the F-35 program, it's always good to keep a little perspective on what you are hearing.  We all know the incredible and incalculable service the B-52 has rendered this nation's national defense.  Imagine if we were building it now.  It would indeed make the F-35 seem to be a bargain in comparison, wouldn't it?


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