July 15, 2013
Credit: Lockheed Martin
The U.S. Marine Corps is having to wait years longer and pay billions of dollars more than planned to introduce the stealthy F-35B into service, a milestone now planned by December 2015.
But, the corps is making use of this delay to attack the cost per flying hour (CPFH), refine its 50-year sustainment estimate and craft advanced tactics and procedures in hopes of easing the introduction into service.
The Pentagon's Cost Analysis and Program Evaluation (CAPE) team told Congress in a May report that the F-35A's CPFH would be about $32,000, some $7,000 more than for the F-16C/D it would replace. The report did not include a figure for the F-35B. However, Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, Marine Corps commandant for aviation, says both the F-35A and B will are expected to ultimately cost about 10% more than the aircraft they are replacing per hour of operation.
The current CPFH for the B, which is slightly more than that of the F-35A as reported in the May acquisition report, is misrepresentative of how the Marine Corps will actually operate the stealthy, single-engine fighter, owing to inaccurate assumptions behind the calculations, Schmidle tells Aviation Week.
For example, the current figure assumes that the F-35B will be used in its short-takeoff-and-vertical landing mode, optimized for the Marine Corps' use on small-deck amphibious ships, 80% of the time. Using the aircraft in this stressing mode prompts a fuel spike, adding cost to the figure.
In actuality, the F-35 B will operate in this mode “a small percentage of the time,” as aircraft will be rotated for use on land bases, Schmidle says.
Also included in the CPFH is the cost of ordnance projected for use every year by the F-35B. Legacy figures do not include this calculation, he adds. So, the Marines are pushing to take that portion of the cost out of the CPFH figure.