Last summer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ripped into F-22 supporters in a speech in Chicago:
Every defense dollar diverted to fund excess or unneeded capacity – whether for more F-22s or anything else – is a dollar that will be unavailable to take care of our people, to win the wars we are in, to deter potential adversaries, and to improve capabilities in areas where America is underinvested and potentially vulnerable.
His supporting evidence for this attack included this unambiguous statement: the F-35 would be "less than half the total cost of the F-22."
This assertion is looking more ill-advised by the minute. More increases in the projected cost of the Joint Strike Fighter are being reported, based on a preliminary document originating from the office of Christine Fox, the Pentagon's director of cost assessment and program evaluation. Fox's office was directed before March to conduct a detailed "should cost" evaluation of the program - and, as I predicted a few weeks ago, it's not producing good news.
InsideDefense reports that the latest document pegs the average procurement cost at $136.2 million in current dollars, versus the $112-113 million figure quoted in March. Bob Cox reports the same from Lockheed Martin's backyard.
The new figures show that the numbers used by most of the participants in last month's Congressional hearings were drawn from two sources. Costs in the current Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) were based on the work of the Joint Estimating Team and other critical reviews of the JSF program office's numbers, but costs beyond the FYDP used JSFPO estimates because the other teams hadn't formally examined them.
Those later numbers - from FY2016 onward - have a huge impact on the average procurement unit cost because of the large numbers of aircraft planned.
The reported increase in the APUC - from $113.6 million to $136.2 million - coincides fairly closely with Fox's March statement that the APUC "will fall in the range of $80‐$95 million" in base 2002 dollars, compared with a goal of $50 million - that is, a 60-90 per cent increase.
Fox added that the final APUC figure would "be determined based on review of the latest program plans and cost information for those aspects of the program that affect primarily the years beyond 2015." So that's what we're seeing in current news reports: Fox's 60 per cent increase was based on incomplete estimates and 90 per cent is more likely.
Other sources note that CAPE is also conducting a total cost of ownership analysis - the Navy has never recanted the very high flight-hour costs that an internal report projected in January - and that will further call into question the affordability of full-rate production plans.
So, getting back to Gates' speech last summer: Even adjusting for the more expensive B and C versions, the APUC for the F-35A now looks like $129 million. A recently released RAND report estimates that the APUC for the F-22, had production been continued, would have been $173 million. Three quarters is not less than half, Mr Secretary.