Thursday, October 16, 2014

F-35A Cost

Here are some interesting acquisition costs for the Air Force’s F-35A, as taken from the Department of Defense, Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 President’s Budget Submission, Feb 2012, Air Force, Justification Book Volume 1, Aircraft Procurement, Air Force.  The costs are reported in the document as “Total Flyaway Cost”.

Prior Years (25 aircraft)        $215M each

2011  (25 aircraft)                 $159M each

2012  (18 aircraft)                 $171M each

2013  (19 aircraft)                 $160M each

I don’t know what time period the Prior Years covers.

Engines are included in the cost.

No point to the post – just data.


  1. The key figures in this data spread really isn't the price of each jet. It's the quantity procured. There is no such thing as an affordable fighter when you build 19 or 25 units a year. The F-35 program has 2 major problems... the first being that development took too long and was somewhat lacking in accountability. Combine that with the concurrent production and development -- which is a bad idea to begin with -- and you have real mess on your hands. The limited budget needs to be split between development and procurement so you don't have money to but a lot to begin with. Plenty of jets that are delivered then need to be fixed when testing revels flaws like they usually do. Expenditure of vendor resources in retrofitting "production" jets slow down development and a genera lack in confidence further compounds to the inability to ramp to 100~150 jets a year prevent unit prices from coming down.

    1. Dwight, a decade or more ago, one of the primary justifications being offered to begin F-35 low-rate initial production was to use the experience of building operational prototypes as a means of developing and refining the advanced production techniques needed to achieve the program's long-term cost containment goals.

      In 1996 at program inception, a series of improvements made to legacy production methods were expected to play a very significant role in achieving a targeted F-35 unit acquisition cost of $35 million per airframe, stated in 1996 dollars and including R&D.

      In the eighteen years which have passed since the F-35 program's inception, cost control issues related to the airplane's fundamental design parameters, and to its avionics and its combat system technologies, have largely (or even completely) erased any unit cost savings generated by these improved production methods.

      In my opinion, there will come a point after 2020 where a decision will be made that it is not worthwhile to upgrade most of the LRIP operational prototypes to a combat-ready status. They will then either be used for training purposes or they will be retired early to Davis-Monthan AFB.

      By that time, twenty-four years will have passed between program inception and the appearance of F-35 production airframes which possess some reasonable level of technical design and operational performance stability.

      And also by that time, twenty-four years worth of evolutionary performance improvements will have been made by potential adversaries to their opposing aircraft and to their opposing IADS and A2/AD systems.

    2. Except of course, the F/A-18 E/F. At it's MSR of about 24, its between $50-55M a copy.

  2. Scott, agree with you, I also am pretty sure that most of these LRIPs and probably a few FYs builds after that will rapidly be given to ANG, testing and ground training or discreetly transferred to Davis-Monthan.

    Wasn't it just last week that USAF was going to spend couple hundred million in the next 3 years to "reduce" production costs.....I have a feeling it's just more money being thrown at this program for fixes and it's just easier to sell PR wise: "we are reducing production costs" than "more over runs and screw ups we discovered in testing"......

  3. any info on how much the operating cost (hourly) for F35 ? and compared to Super Hornet and F22 and if possible a Sukhoi Flanker derivative's operating cost ? just wondering if the single engine F35 have lower operating cost than those twin engined jets..

  4. I really don't get something
    The 15, 16 and 18 are all on at least version 5
    Why the desire to build 1 model of F35
    Why not 200 f35 a block ones?
    Then 200 block 2s.
    And so on.

    As is
    I wouldn't be surprised if allied sales are LRIPs
    Does Belgium care if its twenty 35s are different to Canada's?

    1. Bear in mind that one of the supposed keys to making the F-35 affordable is the all-encompassing computerized maintenance system. Whatever we may think of that concept, it can only work if all the aircraft are identical. If every lot/block/country has different versions the maintenance program will become hopelessly complex and be rendered non-functional, as it is now.

      Also, bear in mind that there is no option to decline the maintenance program. It controls every aspect of the aircraft. Currently, the maintenance operators have to bypass and jury rig workarounds because the fail safe aspects of the software won't allow the aircraft to even start. That was one of the points made about the current staggering operating costs.

  5. commy , isnt F35 supposed to be a cheaply maintained aircraft compared to it's older brothers ? did LM can claim this on the current F35 in service?

    1. "b", yes, the F-35 was supposed to be cheaper to build and cheaper to operate. Neither has turned out to be true, as yet. I think there's little chance of the production cost decreasing but, to be fair, the operating cost may come down somewhat as more aircraft enter service. We'll have to wait and see.


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