In trying to put Joint Strike Fighter export issues into perspective, an Israeli Air Force general says price is the biggest issue, industrial participation by home industries is second and only in third place is the confrontation about replacing U.S. electronic warfare systems with local products.
So far, Elbit has been subcontracted to provide a helmet mounted cueing systems that replaced the standard head up display. And Elta is expected to provide an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar without U.S. complaint. So there is some progress on Israeli industrial participation with more expected.
But the pricetag of “more than $100 million” for each stealthy strike aircraft is seen as a show-stopper. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the sale of SA-22s to Syria and SA-20s to Iran, the IAF would have delayed purchase of the JSF for several years until the price went down.
The “more than” appears to be a substantial amount because the Israeli general says that if the price from the Pentagon were $100 million each, the deal would already be signed. The Israelis want an initial buy of 25-50 aircraft with grow of the fleet expected to reach 75 or more.
Nailing down the price of an F-35 is a complicated task. One problem is that the earlier you buy them, the more they cost and production isn’t scheduled to end until 2035.
“There is no such thing as what JSF costs,” says U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Davis, the F-35 program executive official. “If you give me a year [of purchase], a variant [of the aircraft] and a number [in the buy] I can give you a ball park [price].”
There are a few bench marks. The first, low-rate production lot of two F-35As cost about $200 million each, Davis says. The second lot of six aircraft cost about $160 million (2008 dollars without the engines) each. And by 2014, at the end of LRIP, F-35As are predicted to cost $70-75 million (in 2014 dollars) each while Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL)variants will be coming in at $80-85 million, he says.
Foreign customers are not going to get gouged in the pricing unless they want some thing extra, he says. For example, the Royal Air Force will pay the same for their F-35B Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing aircraft that the U.S. Marine Corps does.
But the cost to any particular customer will be hard to predict. The vagaries, as explained by Davis, are the difference between the year of purchase, the exchange rate, and flyaway cost versus the cost when training, spares and long-term sustainment and other issues that vary over time are added to the total.