Sunday, February 14, 2016

Aircraft Cost Update

Here’s some updated aircraft costs taken from the proposed budget documents submitted to Congress (1).  The numbers are self-explanatory.

F/A-18E/F      2016  qty=5                $350M     ($70M ea)

F-35C             2015  qty=4                $928M     ($232M ea)
                       2016  qty=6                $1,062B  ($177M ea)

F-35B             2015  qty=6                $1,288B  ($215M ea)
                       2016  qty=15              $2,292B  ($153M ea)

Those F-35 costs are a bit more than the numbers that F-35 supporters like to throw around.  It’s hard to imagine the costs dropping to $80M ea or less as has been recently claimed.


(1)Department of Defense Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 President's Budget Submission, Feb 2016 Navy Justification Book, Volume 1 of 4, Aircraft Procurement, Navy Budget Activity 01−04


  1. Not cheap, but not ruinous either, assuming its a complete aircraft, no "Government Furnished Parts" and possibly if it includes some "extras", tools, manuals, that sort of thing, its pretty good, not great, but not bad.

    The Australians paid $120mn per F18 when they bought 24 in 07, the cost including everything needed to operate the aircraft, on top of the aircraft themselves.

    1. I'd be very, very skeptical of what the true flyaway cost is. ALIS is a disaster right now, and is costing more than its saving.

      We are getting the cost for a stealth airframe, and an F-135 engine. The helmet is, I believe, and add on. The sensor fusion isn't working at all; and all planes procued right now are going to have to be back fitted with whatever changes come up.

      I still wonder if it would be possible to just fit the F-35 with a normal HUD, 'normal' avionics (IIRC Boeing did the avionics, so maybe they could put in SuperHornet avionics), and get it set so it can fire the AMRAAM, Meteor, and SBD.

      Ditch sensor fusion and whatever the hell else is requiring 8 million lines of code that is only 25% proofed.

      Essentially, take the airframe with its stealth and range, put in normal avionics that allow it to shoot what the Hornet can, and call it good.

      We miss all the sensor fusion crap and ALIS, but at least we get a jet with a decent range and stealth that is able deliver something. Then tell LM that they can sell the jet and eat the costs for the unfinished stuff that doesn't work, or pound sand and live the next 30 years in litigation with no jet sales.

    2. That's a good idea, use the f-35 as for missions where stealth is critical - like SEAD. Deploy a limited number. the problem with the F-35 is that no one has any idea what the real cost going forward will be as there is still a huge amount of development work to be done. Your plan would simplify future development. I've always thought that (treating what has already been spent as a sunk cost), it may be worthwhile to buy 500 or so F-35 across the three services (for strictly SEAD/First day of war type missions). The problem is, if there is still a great deal of development work to be done - the marginal cost per plane would be huge. Simplifying the design would reduce this risk.

  2. Why did the costs drop 60M in one year for the f-35B and f-35C? Do economies of scale really make that big of a difference?

    1. War Alert. While the Syrians/Russians clear out Syria and restore order, others are upset. When the Saudis threatened to send ground troops to Syria, everyone laughed. But now the big Egyptian Army is deploying heavy armor to Saudi, something that has never happened before.

      Along with dozens of other Muslim nations. Somehow this is not news in the USA.

    2. These numbers are heavily manipulated. I wouldn't put a great deal of stock in them.

  3. Interesting that -B version fly away unit cost doesn't seem to go much down after FY2015, it pretty much stabilizes between $120 to $130 million a copy between FY16 to FY21.

    1. Again, good or bad, up or down, those are made up numbers that incorporate many assumptions about production volume, time frames, extent of technical problems (or lack thereof), software success (or failure), and so on.

      By contrast, we've heard Gen. Bogdan proclaim that the cost will be under $80M in the very near future. As I said, take all the numbers with a huge degree of skepticism.

      The only numbers that matter are the actual, allocated budget numbers which, in this case, is 2015. Each projected year further out becomes increasingly unreliable.

  4. I think your costs are off by about three orders of magnitude. You must've misplaced some zeros.

    1. You may be making a humorous observation but, if not, the figures are taken directly from the actual budget submission to Congress. I cited the reference. Check it out for yourself!

    2. Anon, I failed to understand your comment but I think I've got it now. The numbers were in thousands of dollars as expressed in the budget docs and I didn't make the clear in the post. I've edited the post to show the costs in whole amounts ($M and $B, as the case may be). Thanks for point that out! I'm slow on the uptake but I get there eventually.

  5. 80M is at best a projection for the future.

    Was it batch 9 ? So a way off.

    Its not a useful figure as we all know. Because a cost for a complete useful weaponsystem is much higher.

    The airframe is really just the basics.

    Take a look at the upgrade path for F35 its massive and incredable ( hopefully not literally )

    F35 possibly more than any other plane before is about its upgradability and the long term future. But its basic layout cost is proberbly the thin end of the wedge.

    But what is air dominance from the sea in the future worth ?

    It HAS to work. Otherwise in 10 to 15 years we may as well mothball the carriers. F18 simply wont get through. And there is not time and no garentee about designing some new ficticious FA.


    Naval jets are not likely to ever get less expensive than the current F-18.

    Anti-aircraft guns may make a come back for fleet defense. The pdf above makes the case for a renewal of the anti-aircraft gun for large area defense.

    The rarefaction wave gun would allow even larger guns to be mounted to ships that currently could not handle the recoil without a refit.

    The minimal range afforded by the current (f-18) and future (f-35C) make force projection and fleet protection in a contested environment very difficult. The f-35's stealth is of limited use while it is refueling over the south china sea.

    1. Setting aside how many technologies have been claimed that never panned out - so this may or may not - the improvement is for the gun only and does nothing to address targeting, accuracy, or any of the other issues that have made guns nearly useless against high speed targets. I see nothing in this to indicate that guns will make a comeback in AA.

      Do you see something different in this?

    2. Possibly, Raytheon is working on alternate seekers for the Excaliber shell. including a laser guided and a millimeter wave seeker. The current shell has a price of $68,000 and is in production. UAV laser designation of the target will help in the interim until a fire and forget seeker can be fielded.
      Additionally, BAE is working on an extended range projectile with a rocket assist. If the terminal aspects of the flight can be altered and there is an adequate seeker, I see little reason to think that the guided projectile should function any less well than a missile.

    3. The cost of a missile vs a shell will be the driving force for adoption. May not be used for fast movers but may be useful against UAVs and fast attack boats. If a target can be destroyed with a $70,000 projectile you can keep the $1,200,000 harpoon for other targets.

    4. The cost of a single shell vs a single missile is highly misleading unless we can achieve one-shot, one-kill performance with shells. Otherwise, if it takes 30 shells (to make up number for illustration purposes) to achieve a kill, the kill cost is $2.1M vs the Harpoon's $1.2M. The point is that you have to consider the entire engagement/kill cost. I'm unaware of any gun that can achieve a one-shot, one-kill performance.

      You should check out the capabilities of the excalibur projectile. 2 meters from gps target. And possible laser designator/guidance similar to paveway bomb. The use of guided projectile may make the current marginal utility of the 5 inch gun into a useful weapon.

    6. short video about the naval version

    7. similar system for the 57mm gun on the lcs

    8. Excalibur has been around in various forms for many years and has never quite caught on. I don't why.

      One potential issue is that it was intended for 155mm guns and is pretty expensive. Wiki cites around $260,000 per shell for 2015. That doesn't lend itself to area bombardment!

      The 5" version would, presumably, also be quite expensive for land gunfire support. The GPS guidance is useless for surface warfare although I understand that the manf is trying to add some type of terminal homing guidance.

  7. I would advocate for a serious value for money analysis to be made.

    So we are talking perhaps 2x per F-35 compared to an F-18E/F. The question of whether or not an F-35 is worth more than double needs to be discussed.

    Any increases in costs must be able to be justified by a proportional increase in capability. This holds true for the F-35 and the Ford. I doubt either of these does.

    1. I agree.

      If we could just fly the F-35 as an A-35 without all the junk, and get its cost down as much as possible, it might be nice to have the 600 mile range.

      I don't even know if that's possible.

      But we cannot afford 12 billion dollar CVN's with double price air wings that only offer marginal increases in aircraft range.

      Even if we get all the promises of the F-35, its going to have to get the CVN's uncomfortably close to a coast line to do strikes.

      It might be okay as a blue water strike craft. But... then so does a SuperHornet.

    2. It doesnt really work like that. Its a integrated software baced weapons system.

      1 an 0's dont weigh that much really.

      As for the cost benefit ratio. Simplistic .

      But ok.

      All we can do is look at their nearest cousins.

      Whats the red flag kill/loss ratio comparison between F22 and its predesessor F15 ?

      Then lets say F35 is half as good and look to see if thats still more than the cost ration of F18 to F35.

      Yes it is.

      ( this of course is absolute rubbish. Im just making the point )

    3. Yes, you are correct. 1 and 0's don't weight much. However, the code here is so over the top (2-3 times more complex than what's in the F-22) that its going to stop the F-35 from going into real combat coded capability till sometime in the late teens early 20's.

      And that whole time all the physical tech on the F-35 is stagnant. Engine, sensors, everything.

      It wouldn't shock me, at all, if by the time they get everything working and debugged the enemy has figured out how to pierce the veil of its stealth to some degree; or had better sensors in pods than the F-35 has natively.

      Hence, my idea to jettison the stuff that needs the insane code (looking through the bottom of the plane, sensor fusion, etc.) and get something out there.

      Again, as you say, if its baked in then there is nothing we can do. But if we can get it to do basic things (fire amraams, drop SDB's) and run the radar like a 'normal' jet, we could get some use out of it *now*. Its worth a look at least.

      Yes, we'd lose the sensor fusion capability, and likely have to go back and upgrade these jets later. But so what? We have to do that anyway due to the idiocy of concurrency. The UK could get an F-35B that can actually do what the old Sea Harrier could do in basic form and put it on the POW. The Marines could have a jet they could actually deploy on their 'phibs and *do* something. The Navy could treat it like an A series, get the Advanced super hornet upgrades for new and existing SH's, and have a real, if modest, strike/fleet defense package (especially if they got the meteor).

      Just my $0.02

    4. Yep. I get what your saying.

      And that is whats happening now.

      F35B is at IOC in pretty much the state you recommend.

      2 ship fusion only and basic AESA.

      But the sensors are also the missile warning and ground attack targeting system. So there are some bits that have to remain.

      I really agree with you on weapons integration. There are some that should proberbly move up the prority list.

      But meteor isnt deployed even on the euro canards yet. Its going to be a year or so yet before the missile is ready for integration.

      The UK has its own timetable. It was conservative on F35Bs likly progress. Right now the plane and the ship class are pretty much synced timescale wise.

      I think the advantage of F35 is that it can be deployed like this. And upgraded non mechanically with a software upload.

      Although some of the costs for this confuse me ?

  8. I don't know that the F-35 has to work.

    If we got our S...tuff together we could try to make an F-111-F-14 type pivot.

    I'm very, very worried about the F-35. 1/4 of the code is done? Its been in development for over a decade now, and 1/4 of the code is done? The weapons bays are so small they can carry 2 amraams in stealth mode? Sensor Fusion still isn't working. The airframe itself has issues with cooling through the fuel that make sunny days on high albedo tarmacs problematic (which kind of defines a carrier flight deck....)

    I absolutely agree that without a good air wing the Carriers might as well be mothballed. I'm not at all sure that the F-35 is that plane, even if most of its promise comes to pass by the early 20's like they say it will.

    I fear we are close to a tipping point for the fleet. The new types of weapons out there really stand to make the carriers much less effective.

    On a positive note, it looks like in the new budget we'll get TASM back, as well as some early LRASM's. That will take the reach of our forces from 70 miles to a couple hundred, depending on what we can target.

  9. Latest DOT&E report on the F-35:

    It's a 48 page read, but if you have the time, well worth it.

    Also read the LCS one:

    1. Both reports are depressing. People should be losing their jobs. The LCS program appears hopeless.

    2. And yet

      The Navy is stumping for it.

      I'm not sure how much of that is true belief, how much of that is being a team player, how much of that is just dealing with a non ideal situation, and how much of that is protecting their career.

    3. "I think this is an ideal ship for this area. I like the size, the capability, multi-mission [features], there's also room for growth. And it complements so many navies in this region." This whole statement is almost completely refuted by the DOT&E report, I guess he can like the size of the ship.

    4. This blog has inspired me to do some reading on warship design. Does any one have a short list of books that they would recommend. The areas of damage control and armor are of interest.

  10. Indias order for 36 Rafales is currently being negotiated between 9 and 12 billion Euros.
    Price could be as high as $370mn per aircraft

    That includes a 30% offset (last time I checked), IE, France must buy 4bn Euros of goods from India in return, and likely includes weapons, spare parts, spare engines, pilot training, simulators and tools, but its hugely expensive.


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