Wednesday, April 13, 2016

F-35 Engine Cost Update

Here’s some data on the F-35 engine cost. 

“United Technologies Corp., Pratt & Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Connecticut, is being awarded a $1,038,074,689 modification to the previously awarded advance acquisition contract for the Lot IX low-rate initial production F-35 Lightning II Propulsion contract (N00019-14-C-0004) for the Air Force, Navy/Marine Corps, international partners and foreign military sales (FMS) customers.  This modification provides for components, parts and materials associated with the procurement of 28 F135-PW-100 conventional take-off and landing propulsion systems for the Air Force; six F135-PW-600 propulsion systems for the Marine Corps; and four F135-PW-100 propulsion systems for the Navy.  In addition, this modification provides for seven each F135-PW-100 and F135-PW-600 propulsion systems for international partners, as well as 11 F135-PW-100 spare propulsion systems for FMS customers. This modification further provides for three spare propulsion systems and one trainer propulsion system for the Air Force.” 

That adds up to,

50 F135-PW-100 conventional take-off and landing propulsion systems
13 F135-PW-600 propulsion systems for the Marine Corps

3 spare propulsion systems
1 trainer propulsion system for the Air Force.  

The total is 67 engines at a cost of a little over $1B.  That’s a price of $15.5M per engine.

The announcement says that this is a modification to a previously awarded contract.  It’s unclear from the announcement whether this is additional money added to the previous contract or a stand alone purchase for this price.  Thus, the minimum cost is $15.5M and it may be higher.  I’m not sure how to interpret this.

Some more contract history.

“In October 2013, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) awarded a $1.1 billion contract to Pratt & Whitney for the sixth lot of F135 engines. The contract was for 38 engines, including 18 F135-PW-100 engines for the F-35A, seven F135-PW-400 engines for the F-35C, and six F135-PW-600 engines for the F-35B. On October 14, 2014, the DoD awarded Pratt & Whitney a $943 million contract for the seventh lot of engines (36 units).” (1)

So, that’s $28.9M apiece for 38 Lot 6 engines and $26.2M for 36 Lot 7 engines.



  1. The F-35B propulsion system costs more than twice as much as engines for either the -A or -C. That skews the unit price in this contract slightly higher. Thus the cost for the non-lift fan system is approximately $12.9M each, which seems to be a cost reduction over previous contracts. Still high considering a GE F414 costs $4.5M, two of which power the Super Hornet and together provide more thrust than a single F135.

  2. Also, the engine for the Charlie is F135-PW-400, which is slightly different from the -100 that powers the -A (the contract announcement contains a typo wrt the Navy version.) I should also clarify that the $12.9 average unit cost I mentioned above is an extrapolated number

  3. They are claiming a slightly more than 3% reduction in the price of the A and C engine.

    And something like a 6.4% drop in the B engine for this production lot.

    However as you say its very very difficult to verify that. The whole thing is intentionally complex and opaque.

    I cant help but feel if F136 was still competing we might be seeing better performance for better price.

  4. Since there is just the one, I'm guessing there won't be any pilots complaining that we overpaid for a reliable engine (yes, there are a few assumptions in that statement!)

  5. Have seen the LRIP 9 P&W F135 order for 66 engines (missing the trainer engine?), spares, extra parts and support valued at $1.4 billion. Breakdown 53 CTOL and 13 STOVL engines.
    With the vague claim of a price reduction from LRIP 8 to 10 of 3.4% CTOL and 6.4% STOVL per F135.

    The LM LRIP 9 order F-35's was for 55 a/c, 41 A's, 12 B's and 2 C's, so presume P&W order includes 11 spare engines plus trainer. Tried to allocate a/c orders to engines for LRIP 9 but not sure if correct.

    USAF A's 26 a/c Orders for 28+3+1=32 engines
    Norway A's 6 a/c Order for 7 engines
    Israel+Japan? (FMS) A's 9 a/c FMS order for 11 engines
    USMC B's 6 a/c Order for 6 engines
    UK B's 6 a/c Order for 7 engines
    USN C's 2 a/c Order for 4 engines

    Would need to look total order history to estimate number of engines per a/c, 66/55 gives 1.2, one spare for every 5 a/c, with the extremes above of 2 per a/c for USN to zero for USMC.

  6. USMC doesn't need no stinking spares!! According to the Wiki, the F-16 had a unit cost of only $19 million in 1998. ($27 mil in today's dollars)

    1. The F35 is effectively twice the weight of an F16. Not valid to compare costs. Its more in the class of an F14

    2. @Ztev Konrad

      But he is not comparing the F-16 to an F-35. He is comparing the price of an F-16 to the price of a single engine for the F-35. Which is hilarious :-)

    3. @Ztev

      Considering the F-35 was once billed as a 1 to 1 replacement for the F-16, F-18, and A-10, I'd say that it is very valid to compare costs.

      It's the defense death spiral at work. The JSF was once sold as an affordable plane.

    4. Its ok to compare costs, but lets compare real costs eh?

      "WASHINGTON — A measure to block the $700 million sale of eight US F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan was scuttled in the US Senate on Thursday, though US financing for the deal was on hold."

      8 F16s for $700mn = $87.5mn per F16
      Less than the F35, but significantly more than the $27mn quoted above.

      Is the F35 twice as good as the F16?
      Depends on the yard stick
      Is the Ford Fusion 50% better than the Ford Fiesta?
      Depends on the yardstick.

    5. "Its ok to compare costs, but lets compare real costs eh?"

      I applaud your desire to compare "real" costs but you've missed some key aspects. As documented by the DSCA, the sale of F-16s includes the aircraft, spare parts, 14 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing systems, contractor support, logistics support, training and training aids, weapons, etc. It is not the cost of the aircraft alone. DSCA cites the MDE (Major Defense Equipment - a term they apparently use to identify the actual aircraft) as being $564M. That puts the cost of the aircraft itself at $70.5M. The remainder is support services, equipment, and parts. Check out the DSCA website for details.

      Also, the F-16's are not run of the mill. They are to be upgraded with advanced APG-68(V)9 SAR radars, F-100-PW-229 enhanced performance engines, and ALQ-211(V)9 electronic warfare suites.

      Also of note in a cost comparison is the fact that F-16 new production has fallen to around 10 aircraft per year - hardly conducive to economy of scale! By comparison, the F-35 is around 70 or so per year and ramping up. On the other hand, the F-16 line is mature while the F-35 line is still undergoing optimization.

      Lastly, the original comment in all this was a simple observation that an F-35 engine costs as much or more than an F-16 when first built. Simple fact. No deep meaning.

    6. Fair enough, but, if the US bought new F16s, it would be buying them with HMCSs, and it would be buying the latest models with the latest bells and whistles, and probably wanting even more bells and whistles.

      The original comment may have been in jest but it appeared to take on a more serious note.

      $70mn is a long way from the sort of prices normally thrown around, not a bad price by any means, the F16 should really have a long life remaining as a replacement for the Mirage 3/5/2000, I expect once congress finally realises that the F35 just isnt going to be bought by the likes of Angola, Argentina or Australia, they'll start shopping around an F16 Silent Falcon.

  7. How expensive is this thing going to be to maintain? And doesn't it still have a pretty high mean time between failure?

    The F-135 cranks out a ton of thrust for one engine. It seems like between that and the weight of the aircraft its going to be pretty stressed.

    1. Probably very high MBTF.

      The Harrier (the VTOL aircraft that this F-35B is succeeding) was not a reliable aircraft either.

      Oh, and it had the tendency to kill its pilots due to its poor reliability. It was nicknamed the Widowmaker by many Marine aviators.


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