Pentagon Struggles To Pin Down F-35 Ops Cost

By Amy Butler
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

The Netherlands is reviewing plans to buy 85 F-35s, and Dutch officials said in March that they may cut as many as 33 from the purchase.

The price estimate Bogdan cited to Dutch lawmakers did not stand for long. As soon as it was reported in the press, Kendall raised questions about it. He says the figure is more aggressive than the official one that will go to Congress this month in the Pentagon's selected acquisition report.

Bogdan's 10% figure “is with a certain set of assumptions,” Kendall told reporters at the Pentagon. “I'm not sure we want to use that set of assumptions.” No specifics were provided about these assumptions, however.

The figure presented to Congress will be lower than that in last year's selected acquisition report, Kendall says, which cited the F-35A CPFH at $31,900, versus $22,500 for the F-16 C/D.

“That's going to come down this year. I don't think that is going to come down as much as Chris Bogdan indicated,” Kendall says, adding that he “doesn't like the metric very much.”

Kendall says there are at least six ways to calculate F-35 CPFH, depending on the assumptions behind the calculation. And it can be misleading. If you fly a fleet less—as is expected for the F-35 due to advances in simulators—the per-hour cost increases. But the overall ownership price may be equal to or less than that of legacy fleets.

“The question that I think matters is, 'what is the cost of ownership?'” Kendall says. “What is it going to cost you to have comparable levels of readiness for that aircraft? That is going to vary by country.” It depends on how much each operator flies the aircraft, how many spares are procured and the seniority of maintenance staff performing specific tasks, among other things.

The U.S. Navy has estimated the cost at more than $1 trillion for 50 years of service, though F-35 overseers have been hard at work to refine assumptions and bring that number down.

Lockheed Martin officials concede that the F-35 CPFH will be higher than that of the legacy fleets it will replace. But they argue that the total ownership price will be lower than that of all those fleets—such as the F/A-18, F-16 and A-10—combined. This was a selling point for the aircraft in its early days.


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