Home » Air » F-35 Watch » JSF Price Tag Jumps to $135 Million

JSF Price Tag Jumps to $135 Million

by Greg on March 20, 2010

That’s according to DOD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office. Total JSF program cost is now estimated at $329 billion for a 2,443 aircraft buy, up from the original 2001 baseline estimate of $197 billion for 2,852 fighters (all figures are in then year dollars). The jump in the per unit price triggers a Nunn-McCurdy “critical breach,” requiring a “recertification” from Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the fighter is vital to national security; which, of course will happen.

So how does JSF now compare on price to the recently cancelled F-22? The F-22 cost about $360 million per copy. The aircraft that looks more appealing as JSF costs climb is the F/A-18E/F at around $90 million a copy. Pressure is building from lawmakers on the Hill for the Navy and Marines to buy more Hornets as the current fleet gets older and the arrival date for the JSF continues to slip.

– Greg

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{ 103 comments… read them below or add one }

MPY March 20, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Oh my god, scrap the entire thing already!


WillyPete March 21, 2010 at 2:00 am

And flush ALL those dollars already spent down the toilet, and THEN pay a Cancellation fee almost the size of the purchase contract, for NOTHING?
Then, what do we buy?
Antique designs like the Super Hornet and various Eagle permutations?
European designs like the Rafale, they Typhoon and the Gripen?
I don't care for either of those choices, either…


Chimp March 22, 2010 at 7:42 am

I reckon that the J-10 would be a good bet. Y'all could do a debt swap… "We'll buy J-10's, and you forgive the same value in debt".

Not serious, but funny :)


Russ March 23, 2010 at 11:48 am

"And flush ALL those dollars already spent down the toilet"

Those dollars are a sunken cost and are not retrievable. They should never be factored into decision making. If the program is no longer a good value, then continuing to fund it is simply throwing good money after bad.

"Then, what do we buy?
For the Air Force, more F-22s and more F-16s. That's a real high/low mix. We need more than 187 air superiority fighters, so building more F-22s, especially now that they cost not much more than an F-35, is obvious. The F-16 is still very capable, especially with modern avionics, and maybe even an F119 engine thrown in.

For the Navy, more F-18s, perhaps with more fuel efficient engines. Let's face it, the F-18 may not be a credible air superiority fighter, but neither is the F-35.

For the Marines, build new AV-8Bs.

For the DoD, a lesson not to ever pull an F-111/F-35 again.

For Lockheed Martin, a lesson that taxpayers will not continue throw money at their mismanagement.


Russ March 23, 2010 at 12:15 pm

I just crunched some numbers.

Let's say that F-35s will cost $112 million per unit, which means another $273 billion.

Now, lets say that the Air Force buys 200 more F-22s ($142 million unit) and 1,413 F-16s ($50 million unit.

Let's say that the Navy buys 480 navalized F-22s, and that they cost $170 million unit, and the Marines buy 350 new AV-8s at $70 million unit.

That would be $205 billion.

If we alter this scenario so that the Navy buys 120 F-22s and 360 F-18s, then we're looking at $162 billion, and the Navy gets full blown air superiority back!

Here's the spreadsheet that I used:


chaos0xomega March 23, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Except air superiority is not the purpose of naval aviation, and there is no evidence that the F-22 can even be navalized. There was the navy advanced tac. fighter program sometime back, but that might as well have been a completely different aircraft rather than an actual variant.

Rick W March 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Except that the F-22's cost about 360 million apiece. That number is right there in the story. If you are going accept the $135 million estimate for the JSF as being good then you are going to have to use the other one too.

In plain language, you can still get almost three JSF for the price of a single Raptor.

Dmitry March 20, 2010 at 1:36 pm

It is necessary to limit excess profits of military suppliers


WillyPete March 21, 2010 at 2:03 am

It would also help, a LOT to 'limit' excess mistakes by our Procurement offices…
One of the problems with the F-35 is they decided on a 'concurrent' schedule, making aircraft purchases WHILE it was still being flight-tested!
Oh, and it was a 'cost-plus' contract that guarantees additional profits in the case of cost overruns, with few or no rewards for coming in on time, and on budget!
Can you spell "Designed to Fail"?


BILL D March 21, 2010 at 8:30 pm

No–but is it necessary for the projected cost per plane to go from 50mil. to 135 mil. and we are still 5YRS. from deployment.What will it be in 2015—200 mil.?


czech_6 March 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm

wow, i better pick up some shares in Lockheed Martin before it's too late.


Vertigo March 20, 2010 at 4:04 pm

I'm going to stick with my previous statements that, the F35 needs to be put out of its misery. The plant for F22's has to be reopened, which should only supply the airforce with the latest and greatest. The navy takes the super hornets in full production, the marines and the army get a bunchload of LAAR aircraft (like the super tucano from embraer).

Now everyone has something to play with, all matching solid mission statements: air force = air superiority and bombing, marines = first strike and COIN capabilities, navy = power projection and the army = command and control of the terrain. There is no need for every single branch in the military to all have the latest and greatest airplane, all have the latest and greatest gadgets. Thats where the branches are supposed to support each other.



@Earlydawn March 20, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Actually, I think the Marine Aviation is better characterized as the close-air support masters, not first strike. They make serious compromises to make those planes assault carrier-compatible, even more so then Navy. If you're talking strictly aviation comparisons, first strike is probably more Navy then anything else. Air Force is volume and tempo and the most well-rounded and capable of the three, but they're obviously limited by their capability to base their machines close to theatre.


Jay March 29, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Opening the F-22 line is fine if the Air Force is unwilling to partake in tactical CAS missions. The Bones and Buffs may take to that mission, but the B-2 and the F-22 won't. Nine years of conflict and the F-22 hasn't dropped a single round. The Air Force powers that be can't allow the Navy and Marines to take over the tactical CAS role or they'll lose precious funding.


Robert March 20, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Ridiculous. Thanks goodness that F22 line hasn't initiated the shutdown yet.

Let's buy A/A & A/G Raptor instead then. $135 million per F35; that's outright FUBR.

In comparison, Su30MKI is rumored to cost just $45 million each.


Lee Gibson March 20, 2010 at 7:24 pm

How are you going to land an F-22 on a Marine carrier? Just curious.


Why March 20, 2010 at 11:12 pm

You don't need to. The amphibious ships are primarily carrying helicopters – transports and gunships – not Harriers anyway. Most MEUs have four Harriers, if they have any at all. A MEU needs transports and gunships far more than it needs four jets. If fixed wing is needed it can be provided by the big decks initially and then based ashore at expeditionary airfields built by the Marines on site.


joe March 22, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Is an F-22 capable of landing even on a big deck carrier, though?
On a regular basis without ruinous maintenance wear, anyway?
Navalised birds tend to require quite a bit of structural work to the undercarriage…


John March 20, 2010 at 1:01 pm

We need to put an end to the defense contractor corporate welfare. Lockheed is RAPING the taxpayers. They should be barred from ever bidding on defense programs again.

Perhaps we should just start importing Russian fighters.


maximilliangc June 5, 2014 at 5:57 am

Make sense, buy the airframes, use US made avionics and engines.
Have them assembled by anyone with a conscience, specifically
other than Lockmart & Bore-ing.


Dan March 20, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Actual costs of the F-22 are now down to about $110M per copy–all R&D costs are sunk and the AF only pays for actual hardware. Better jet than F-35 for less dollars. But the Congress is too busy passing social reform to notice the disparity.


STemplar March 20, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Yes, but the 135 million price for the F35 factors in R&D over the life of the total program including the numbers and R&D. So F22s are about 2 to 3 x as expensive as F35s.


jbierling March 20, 2010 at 1:19 pm

135 vs 360. But how much per F-22 if we were building 2400+ of them?


Armchair Warlord March 21, 2010 at 12:47 am

Estimates on unit cost for new F-22s are at 180 – that's just unit flyaway cost. An F-35 is probably going to cost something like three-quarters what an F-22 would in an infinite production rundown because it's three-quarters the fifth-generation fighter of an F-22. Plus lower maintenance costs (which are insane on F-22s) and the Air Force is getting a pretty good deal.


Pete March 20, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Lets see what happens when the Russian T-50 or what ever ends up being call cost one third and every third world country have a couple of them. So much for exclusivity.


@Earlydawn March 20, 2010 at 6:47 pm

This is quite the disaster. I hope that common sense will prevail and the Pentagon will up the F-22 order, but this puts the Navy and Marines in quite a bind.


WillyPete March 21, 2010 at 2:07 am

Gee, I wonder why?
Oh! Maybe it's because the Air Force *designed* the F-22 solely for the air-to-air role, and made sure it could not be landed on a carrier, for no reason than to win the interservice pissing contest?


Chops March 22, 2010 at 5:41 am

Not completely true-remember the Navy can be very picky about things especially since it was originally designed for the Air Force— am sure they could come up with a variant for the Navy much as they did w/the F4


Curt March 22, 2010 at 11:01 am

F4 was origionally a Navy Fighter, so coming up with a version for the Air Force was a piece of cake. Doesn't always work out so well, witness the F-18A. Lots of problems because it wasn't designed as a Navy fighter to begin with.


Dean March 20, 2010 at 7:29 pm

LIke I've said before it's the insistence of a STOVL version of the JSF that has doomed this aircraft from the start. They were naive to think they could build one plane to satisfy everyone. Never been done before and never will. They do it because they think commonality will save money but in the end you pay alot more for something that gives everyone a less capable platform. They will never learn….


Why March 20, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Agree completely. I also go further though – STOVL needs to die a much overdue death, at least for Marine Air. It will bankrupt Marine Air.


SMSgy Mac March 20, 2010 at 7:35 pm

1. DoD contracts of this sort are 'cost plus' — meaning the gov't recognizes the risk in developing a new capability and technologies and the uncertainties it brings. The DoD contractors' profits are of a generally lower percentage than in the commercial world. Nearly all of contractor profit is made in award fees which vary by how well they meet objectives laid down by the Customer. in my experience, if the contractor gets less than 95% of the award fee twice in a row, people lose their jobs -margins are that 'thin'. As a result, DoD prime contractors have tended to attract investors that are willing to accept lower profits and dividends that are also more consistent and steady.
2. Again, It would be nice if some 'journalist' (HINT, HINT)would venture to enquire as to what % of the cost increases are due to programmatic changes: a) stretching the development and b) parsing the LRIP manufacturing programs, c) reducing all that fearsome 'concurrency' that everyone was wringing their hands over (last year's fashionable anti JSF theme).
3. Let's buy more older A/C? Yeah, just what we need: more targets.
People! Close your mouth when you breathe!


Why March 20, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Yes because USAF logic says older is bad, no matter how capable, effective, or realistic for procuring it may be. Gotta love those day dreamers in blue, they have a nice little artificial reality going – too bad wars are fought in THIS world.


SMSgt Mac March 21, 2010 at 12:44 am

Hmmm. I suspect either:
1. It is raining/snowing where you are and ‘Mom’ won't let you get your Lego’s out because she's vacuuming
2. You can't afford the $2.99/minute this month for Mistress Yolanda to tell you how you've “been a naughty, naughty boy and must be spanked!”
….with the correct answer depending upon whether or not you're tall enough yet to get on the big rides at Disneyland.
Tell ya’ what Moonbeam — I'm in a magnanimous mood. Provide a bulletproof explanation to support the following statement:
RESOLVED: Stealth is NOT the price of admission on the modern battlefield.
… And I will sing praises to your intellect and revelations far and wide for the ages to come. When you are the darling of War College lecture circuit and making book tours, I’ll point with pride that I was first one you revealed the secret of the ages to when I see you on Charlie Rose.
But if you can’t…, then you agree to take your weak-a** ad hominem ‘snark’ back to the main Military.com troll fest in perpetuity. Deal? ;-)


TMB March 21, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Got a program question for you Mac. What is the definition of Initial Operating Capability? I ask because pfcem keeps railing that the program is on track for an IOC of 2012. But aren't the only airframes being built for testing? How can a bunch of test aircraft be considered a "capability?" I know that the Marines are about to stand up a test squadron, but those aircraft may be drastically different from the aircraft I'll see overhead down the road.


SMSgt Mac March 22, 2010 at 12:55 am

With the exception of his Boeing Tanker blindspot ;-) , pfcem is frequently on target. LRIP 3 had production aircraft in it, what the numbers were I don't remember. F-35 is starting LRIP4 now. Last I heard LRIP4 involves 12 F-35A, 14 F-35Bs, with one F-35C for the US and one Netherlands F-35A.

Why March 21, 2010 at 7:58 pm

You just keep it up there, you've shown your contempt for every service except the USAF time and again, and your inability to grasp the reality of warfare as it actually happens, not as it is modelled and talked about in air conditioned rooms stateside. Whatever fantasy you have to construct about me to keep your chin up – go for it. Your posts themselves are all the entertainment I need from Defense Tech.


SMSgt Mac March 22, 2010 at 12:34 am

RE: "shown your contempt for every service except the USAF time and again….”.
Really? When? Try providing specifics. I am uber-critical of stupid decisions when they're made by anyone in any branch, but as far as ORGANIZATIONAL criticisms I reserve the most SEVERE for the Air Force because organizationally they have floundered most since Aspin's (spit) BUR. This is all in the public domain and it has been available for years, so your assertion is, to be succinct – a complete lie.
RE: "…and [shown] your inability to grasp the reality of warfare as it actually happens, not as it is modelled and talked about in air conditioned rooms stateside"
Heh. ‘Young ones’ and ‘Slow ones’ always think ‘this’ war represents the only way they’ll be fought in the future. The people who count have believed my grasp is fine enough to pay me quite handsomely for it, and I get paid to be RIGHT…..so your opinion is of no matter.

SMSgt Mac March 22, 2010 at 12:34 am

And to get back on topic…Don’t think everyone didn’t notice that coming back with your little ‘oh yeah?’ retort looks like an effort to cover for your failure to answer the challenge made.

Chops March 21, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Iagree that the stealth capabilities of the F22&F35 are of great importance but their advantage is reduced by daytime missions- in which case you might as well field the F16s&F15s.


SMSgt Mac March 22, 2010 at 12:42 am

RE: But their advantage is reduced by daytime missions- in which case you might as well field the F16s&F15s.

the first part of your statement, with a few caveats, is true. the conclusion is false. As reported after the F-22 went to Red Flag:
“The thing denies your ability to put a weapons system on it, even when I can see it through the canopy,” said one Australian aggressor pilot at the time. “It’s the most frustrated I’ve ever been.”

The 'kill chain' can be broken much easier at every link with Stealth

TMB March 21, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Re: #3 While maintaining that cutting edge is great, let us not spend billions and take years just to field something new for the sake of it being new. For a great many reasons we took on the order of 13 years for the F-22 to go from blueprint to functional squadron. We're probably looking at a similar timeframe for the first variant of the F-35. In the meantime designs change, costs change, calendars slip, and people's patience wears. During that timeframe current aircraft are breaking and we're fighting wars that may not need this next big thing. The Air Force and the Marines have put all their eggs in this basket, to the detriment of programs and aircraft that are still killing bad guys. The Navy is still strongly considering buying more F-18s because it works for them and its available.


Blight March 20, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Has anyone calculated out the per unit cost once you subtract out R&D expenditure?


Sean March 20, 2010 at 11:52 pm

We shouldn't even be using STOVL fighters anymore. They are way to prone to IR missiles and hardly used at all in conflicts until the entire enemy SAM systems are down. Station a squadron of Hornets on a CBG. They and their Navy comrades will supply the CAS for the grunts. And tell the Brits to pull the finger out and put 2 cats on their new CVs. This isn't rocket science people ;)


STemplar March 20, 2010 at 11:55 pm

There will be a reduced buy to save costs. That was part of the plan I'd wager. I remember reading a good piece on that very issue. Goes something like this. The F35 was envisioned to replace the F16, F15, F18, A10, and F117. Well we retired the F117s anyway, the A10s are going through a SLEP through almost the total buy of the F35 now, the F15Es are being kept. The numbers of F16s envisioned to be replaced were on a 1 to 10 basis, although people always admitted the F35 was going to be far more capable and there need not be a 1 to 1 replacement of F16s. The F15Es and A10s are being kept, so there doesn't need to be as many F35s purchased. Factor in the notion that for certain missions, like air sovereignty in North America, a latest version advanced block F16 similar to what is being peddled to India would be more than up to the task.

There will be a reduced buy I would think.


STemplar March 20, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Sorry, previous post meant to say the F16s were to be replaced on a 1 to 1 basis in the USAF version, not 1 to 10.


roland March 21, 2010 at 5:40 am

Gees the price is on the roof already. Maybe we just settle for T-50. Maybe its 10 times cheaper. I heard the russians want a contact with us.


Blight March 21, 2010 at 10:38 am

Even if you reduced the buy to zero you’d still be paying dev costs, which would in turn bring the per unit cost to astronomical levels. Once you’re in the quicksand there’s no easy way out.

At this point we might as well bump up the order and slap down penalties for additional cost over-runs. Or perhaps Lockheed ought to go on the PR offensive and give us an explanation of how DoD procurement works; and why the cost is spiraling faster than government spending.


STemplar March 21, 2010 at 6:49 pm

It lowers the overall price tag though. It was done with the F22, it will be done with the F35. For pretty much the same reason, we don't need as many as originally envisioned. You still have to pay the same for the dev costs, but money is still saved in the per unit cost. The whole debate is a good thing really, because it forces other options to be examined.


Blight March 23, 2010 at 7:41 pm

The issue is marginal utility per dollar sunk into R&D. We can't back out of paying R&D, but theoretically we'd get more platforms out per dollar, up to a point.


Byron Skinner March 21, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Good Morning Folks,

LM to DoD: ” Stick ‘em up, we have an F-35 and I know how to use it.”

DoD to LM: “At least give us the benefit of having a gun and wearing a mask.”

Byron Skinner


Benjamin March 21, 2010 at 5:57 pm

I think the best option would be to scrap the JSF, AF buys improved F-22's and F-16E/F, Navy buys FA-18E/F blk III and UCAV, USMC buys an improved A-10 if operations are feasible from an LHD and FA-18E/F blk III.


BILL D March 21, 2010 at 8:02 pm

I agree-I noted in other comments that the f16 &f15 airframe have enormous potential for upgrades and that can be done at one tenth the cost of the F35.


chaos0xomega March 21, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Why would the Marines buy A-10s? They are a great airframe and do the CAS role better than anything else on that list, but they can't take off from carriers or amphibs… what good are they to the marines?

We also have to consider what happens with our allies in the event of cutting an F-35. Normally I could care less about that, but having our allies purchase a certain competitors plane instead could screw us in the long run…


ohwilleke March 22, 2010 at 10:00 pm

An A-10 needs a minimum of 2500 feet of airstrip to take off, and that's without being fully loaded (in which case it takes much more). A Nimitz class carrier has 1092 feet or runway available on its deck. Amphibious assault ships take more.

A carrier based plane with the same mission and similar design choices to an A-10 is possible, but you'd pretty much need to start over from scratch to get something that could handle a short enough runway. I don't see any way that a modest A-10 modification could do the trick.

Indeed, something Osprey based might make the most sense for a Marine air to ground platform that would fulfill a similar mission to the A-10.


BILL D March 21, 2010 at 7:34 pm

The rest of the world must be laughing their asses off as the only super power gets continually SCREWED by their own defense contractors.


BILL D March 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm

At a price of 135mil. ea our suspected future enemies can put up 3 or 4 brand new fighters for 1 of ours.I guess the U S pilots would call that a target rich environment.I call it a recipe for disaster.


blackbull March 21, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Dumb and dumber………. The F35 is a non functioning flying brick that does Nothing well. Looks just like another MacNamara boondoggle. Damn politicians dont have the brains to pour pee out of a pointy shoe. My gawd, we are surrounded by marxist/socialists and mentally retarded politicians.


Joseph March 21, 2010 at 11:04 pm

135,000,000 $ each for a fighter aircraft that's neither quite agile (no thrust vectoring…) nor really stealthy is bizarre.


SMSgt Mac March 22, 2010 at 12:58 am

'Nor really stealthy'? LOL! – Only in certain Aussie pundit's fevered imaginations.


chaos0xomega March 22, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Except its really not that stealthy… The designers themselves admitted that it has a larger radar signature than an F-22, and that its stealth characteristics are optimized for its forward facing surfaces (I.E. – it has a larger radar signature from the sides/rear/above/below). And lets see, its a single engne fighter with a rather large exhaust features, my guess being that it doesn't have much in the way of IR/thermal reducing features…

And then you realize that F-15/18 (and I would assume 16 as well) pilots conduct combat sims vs. F-22s and score kills every now and again… and if they can do it to an F-22, they sure as hell can do it to an F-35…

and did I mention how loud the damn things are?


Matt March 22, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Just because the F-35 is less stealthy than an F-22 doesn't mean it's "not that stealthy". The thing has the radar signature of a steel marble. (As opposed to the F-22's BB.) And because F-15s and -18s can score kills on F-22s "every now and again", we should go back to building those instead? They date from the seventies!


chaos0xomega March 23, 2010 at 4:46 am

I think we should go a step farther and build updated F-4s, but I'm nostalgic like that (although if you never heard of it, the F-4 'Superphantom' projects are rather interesting, makes you wonder why we didn't have supercruise capable planes available in large quantitiy sooner)…

Yes, you are correct in your assessment that they are stealthy, all what I am trying to do is point out that their stealth is not the impregnable shield that so many people imagine them to be. My primary concern about the F-22 and F-35 is not about how capable they are, but how many we end up with. If that means buying legacy/legacy.5 airframes as a stopgap measure to keep our air force/navy/marine corps flying while we get our acts together and figure out precisely what we need and how much its going to cost us, then so be it.

Especially when you have the rumors of the T-50. An aircraft rumored to have capabilities roughly on par with the F-22 for half the price?

G Lof March 22, 2010 at 4:03 am

Blaming the contractors for a development system created by Congress and Pentagon bureaucraies is a waste of time an energy. Over the last forty years the power that be have destroyed the Military Industrial complex and replaced it was a centralal controllec military supply train copied from the old USSR. And since the people in charge of it have no insentives to control cost, or even produce any weapon what so every, and every reason to protect they asses with mountains of paperwork, natural all we get from them are "megatons" of useless paper.____Frankly if we want to save money we needed to go back to the days when we build a lots of different aircarft that can proform one mission well instead of a single arecraft type that proform no missions at all.__


Tom March 22, 2010 at 5:18 am

I think by the end of the year some of those flags are going to fall off the side of that aircraft, not many foreign countrys like footing more of the bill that got a out of control. To bad… another great NATO plan, shot down before it will really get off.


The Norwegian March 22, 2010 at 10:25 am

The fly-away cost of a F-22 is between 130 and 140 million dollars, the same as F-35, which makes it quite obsurd to buy only 187 of the superb air-to-air F-22 which is also air-to-ground capable, and 2443 of the F-35 which is slower, can't carry more weapons than the F-22, and mostly air-to-ground configured. The F-35 is not designed with all-aspect stealth as the F-22 is, and everybody knows it. You got to buy more F-22s Gates! Its also quite obsurd to use a lot of money to develop such a fantastic aircraft as the F-22, and then both deny close allies the chance to buy it and also building only 187. The US has commitments which they only increase when export of F-22 is denied.


BILL D March 22, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Think of 21 B2s


@Earlydawn March 23, 2010 at 2:09 am

What on earth would make you think that the United States wants its most advanced stealth fighter flying in foreign air forces with no oversight of technology assessment? You do realize that there are still nations that can't create the B-2 level of outdated, high-maintenance stealth technology, right?


The Norwegian March 23, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Actually the F-22 also have high-maintenance stealth technology, which is partly because Gates wanted to end production of the fighter. But I think high maintenance means you need more F-22 to have an adecvate number ready. And my point was, that when export is denied, at least the US itself should have enough F-22. 187 F-22s to protect the democratic world ain't much. Especially when they don't cost more than the F-35 anyway.


Tony C March 22, 2010 at 10:44 am

The US Navy was right to bypass congress and develop the F-18F/F in case the F-35 never became reality. The F-18E/F is designated as an 80% solution in the roles it was designed to perform, so why not develop a specialized 20% solution using UCAV's? The F-35 program has become a fiasco, like the old US Navy A-12 program that they cancelled. The F-35 is now a lead sled with all the hrdware in place, much like teh F-4 Phantom II. The F-4 Phantom had two engines to carry the load. Time to revamp teh F-35 to a lightweight Air Force land based fighter and let the US Navy develop their own replacement for the F-18C/D and F-14 for teh fleet.


ohwilleke March 22, 2010 at 9:49 pm

F-35 cost per unit (average cost) in 2001: $70 million
Inflation since 2001: $14 million
Increased per plane R&D due to smaller buy of planes: $9.5 million or less.
Cost overruns from contractor: $41.5 million
Total average cost: $135 million
F-35 marginal cost: $108 million.

By my calculations, the marginal cost of an F-22 is about $220 million (compared to $360 million average unit cost). By comparison, the marginal cost of an already developed F-18E/F is about $90 million, and the marginal cost of an already developed export model of the F-16 is about $27 million.

Bottom line: the F-35 is very expensive by any measure.


SMSgt Mac March 23, 2010 at 4:10 am

Interesting back of the envelope cost analysis. Accepting the numbers provided as a basis, now factor in O&S cost/yr comparisons. For ROM estimates a multiple of acquisition costs is usually used for lifetime O&S. In this case you will have to adjust for the F-35 needing "less tanker/transport and less infrastructure with a smaller basing footprint" than legacy fighters, and the F-18E/F costs somewhat higher for encountering major obsolescence issues at least a decade earlier than the F-35.
end of part 1…


ohwilleke March 23, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Fair point. The JSF was sold as both cheap to build and as cheap to maintain. But, given the maintenance difficulties of the F-22 and the difficulty they've had getting the F-35 into the field, and the complexity of the F-35B, I'm not willing to put much stock in the operating cost estimates yet.


adkiiuyr May 1, 2010 at 10:29 pm

I had understood marginal cost of F-22 is well under $140million, maybe 120million. I think it is only needed one type of 5th generation but must be the best for air superiority. And the best is F-22.
So I would buy several hundreds more of F-22 and then lots of updated F15s, F18s and F16s, the 4.5 versions of them. And lots of UAVs.
Also F-22 should be exported to allied countries.


ohwilleke March 22, 2010 at 10:01 pm

"Amphibious assault ships take more" should have read "Amphibious assault ships have even shorter runways."


Brian Crowley March 22, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Might be a good time to buy Boeing stock. F-22 is part Boeing as well as F-15
& F-18.


Tony C March 23, 2010 at 11:24 am

I need to slow down and correct the spelling in these blogs, but it seems to me that the weight issue will be a factor in the F-35 performance. The removal of fire extinguishers in the engine bay to save weight is a red flag. The removal of the gatling gun from the VSTOL F-35B to save weight is another red flag. There has to be some realism added to the equation of performance versus weight and what is needed to perform a real world mission. Stealth technology is expensive and may not give all the benefits advertised with new air defense radars and digital signal processing. The Russian answer is extreme manuverability, which has merit to out manuver a missile in some flight regimes. Missiles are relatively cheap, so the enemy will simply fire more missiles. Stealth has an advantage in the ability to get closer before detection.
This doesn't mean it will be impervious to air defenses, so a large number of conventional airframes over a small number of stealth airframes does have merit. The measure-countermeasure developments continue and the answers are getting more and more expensive. The F-18E/F is cheap enough to be used for most missions and if they are lost, not break the treasury.


chaos0xomega March 23, 2010 at 3:22 pm

You sir, are a poet.

Stealth may seem to be 'the answer' to us now, but rest assured that it won't take long before the counter to stealth is developed (if some rumors/theories, etc. are to be believed, the bypass to our stealth technology may very well be sitting right beneath our enemies noses, and they may not even realize it).


brian March 23, 2010 at 11:29 am

Stealth is the only answer. Extreme maneuverability means nothing when the missile is traveling 2x your speed. Its like the plane is standing still. Forget it when direct energy weapons are brought to bare, then it won't matter at all. That being said, we need stealth that can it hard to reach places as well as take down air defenses, and we need rugged cheaper non-stealth planes to deal with everything else.


brian March 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm

I guess its time to kill the F35 and buy more F22's + F18's. I don't think I have seen this much consensus on a military issue on this site ever.


ohwilleke March 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Kill the F-35? No. Buy fewer? Yes. The DOD needs to recognize that not all missions require (1) stealth, (2) supersonic speeds, and (3) advanced aerobatic capability, which drive cost. We should have cheaper alternative for missions that don't require more.
1. In the Air Force: Replacements for the A-10 and AC-130, a smaller COIN aircraft, more small fixed wing aircraft like the C-27 that the Army is buying, something along the lines of a B-747 to replace the B-52, and a new generation of tanker aircraft to extend the range of our fighters and intratheater cargo planes.
2. We need a cheaper alternative to the F-16 to patrol civilian airspace for errant general and commercial aviation craft and improveived para-military aircraft for the National Guard and the Coast Guard. It shoud lack significant air to group capabilities, have a light weapons load, have advanced sensors, have generation 3 fighter speed and agility, and should be easy to operate and maintain.
3. We should have more P-8s to do much of the work now being done by surface warfare ships in anti-surface ship and anti-submarine warfare, and may want to reconsider the decision to decomission the S-3 for those roles.


brian March 23, 2010 at 5:03 pm

If we buy fewer, the cost per unit sky rockets. So what variant is worth buying at such a huge cost? the F-35B looks like a possibly good candidate for marines, but is it worth the cost considering other the other planes available RIGHT NOW at a fraction of the cost?


ohwilleke March 25, 2010 at 2:58 am

I don't know about "sky rockets." We have about $64 billion tops in R&D on the F-35 and more importantly, we've already spent most of it, for better or for worse.

At this point what matters is the marginal cost of the F-35 v. the marginal cost of alternatives.


chaos0xomega March 24, 2010 at 2:44 pm

If you ask me, the DoD needs to recognize that multi-role planes are not the way to go. On paper, it looks like a good deal, one platform that can do jobs that would normally require 5 different platform, but then you realize that one plane costs about as much as 5 different planes, but doesn't have the flexibility of being able to be in 5 different locations at once…


Riceball March 25, 2010 at 4:26 pm

"3. We should have more P-8s to do much of the work now being done by surface warfare ships in anti-surface ship and anti-submarine warfare, and may want to reconsider the decision to decomission the S-3 for those roles. "

Knowing the Navy they're probably contemplating the notion of developing and SF-18 for that role. It seems that they want to try to come up with as many roles as possible for the F-18 so an SF-18 would be the next logical step along with a CF-18 (to replace the C-2 fleet) and an AEW variant EF-18 as well.


Blight March 23, 2010 at 7:49 pm

It's probably too late to spin off the VSTOL variant and attempt to rush out the Navy and AF variant independently. Or at least, isolate whichever version is pushing the costs up.

Or if it's cheaper to concede that all three versions won't have as much commonality as originally designed. I mean, Huey and Cobra have some similar parts, but nobody pretends that they look alike; and certainly nobody tried to build a Cobra gunship out of too many Huey parts to compromise the mission.


pfcem March 23, 2010 at 8:12 pm


Your own calculated 'marginal cost' (I am not going to comment on its accuracy/inaccuracy) is 'just 20% more that the F/A-18E/F. A F-35 for 20% higher 'marginal cost' than the F/A-18E/F IS A BARGIN!


TMB March 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm

$90-$115 million for 2500 or so F-35s and $80 million for 400 F-18E/Fs. If the production runs were equal in number, what would the price be for both?


TMB March 23, 2010 at 8:30 pm

The price is for each plane. Oops.


roland March 28, 2010 at 9:13 pm

It could be a good strike fighter candidate if it have low price tag.


Robert Fritts June 11, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Maybe the USAF should buy some BARE SU-30 airframes, send them down to Israel to get the all the electronics installed for real war, then we give Lockheed-Martin $30million each for not building aircraft. Everyones happy and the taxpayer saves $60million per aircraft!


CTOCS77 May 30, 2011 at 8:29 am

Total JSF program cost is now estimated at $329 billion for a 2,443 aircraft buy, up from the original 2001 baseline estimate of $197 billion for 2,852 fighters (all figures are in then year dollars). The jump in the per unit price triggers a Nunn-McCurdy “critical breach,” requiring a “recertification” from Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the fighter is vital to national security; which, of course will happen.

Cut the contract and re-bid. No way do we need that many F-35's, What we need are TOYOTA Pick-ups and RPG's.


CTOCS77 May 30, 2011 at 8:40 am

Anything that has a "J" in it is over budget and behind sked. The Joint Experiement is a failure. You might as well put everyone in the same uniform and stop all this duplication of services. If the Airforce had any vision they would own all the planes that the Navy has today. With today's technology we do not need all the forward deployed troops sitting in the Fulda Gap waiting for the Russians to come across. All the in-fighting and the services at the expense of the taxpayers. You do not need the F-35 to fight America's new enemies. Hopefully when Gates justifies the need for the F-35 he is tied to a lie detector.


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Chops March 22, 2010 at 5:17 am

I am not advocating non use of F22s&F35s in daylight but it would seem that their advantage would be better in stand off attacks rather than furballs under enemy sam protection–BUT–I will be the first to admit that I don't know enough about it to assume I'm right.I would guess the stealth airframes would have a 75pct. survivability chance over non stealth.Yes I'd rather be in a F22.


ohwilleke March 22, 2010 at 10:05 pm

By my estimates (based on triple the R&D costs of the F-22) we are no more than $64 billion into the F-35 so far, and R&D is almost done. Most of the cost overruns are coming in the production costs, not the R&D.


nraddin March 22, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Wait, it cost $64billion to build the test aircraft and do R&D but the aircraft will cost twice that each? Was the cost of the test aircraft not included in that $64billion, and if so was that cost included in the total cost of the airframes?

If really less than 2.5 million per airframe was spent on R&D but it's 135 per aircraft I don't know how we can justify it over the F-22. I don't know everthing about it's packages either, but I was under the impression that most things being developed for it could be fitting to the F-22 as well (Helmet display was a big one).


SMSgt Mac March 23, 2010 at 4:12 am

Part 2
Now you can use total estimated costs to estimate "value". Mission analysis has shown the F-35 will be "Four times more effective than legacy fighters in air-to-air engagements”, “Eight times more effective than legacy fighters in prosecuting missions against fixed and mobile targets” and “three times more effective than legacy fighters in non-traditional Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) and Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD/DEAD) missions” according to an LM rep at Farnborough in 2006. Now based upon the marginal costs given and a conservative estimate of the JSF O&S costs, we see the LM estimate could have been that the F-35 would be only equally effective- and still be a better buy.
Some will be tempted to second guess the effectiveness claims but I would caution against the urge. the published outcomes of these modelling and analytical exercises are usually far more conservative than the 'official' outcomes.


chaos0xomega March 23, 2010 at 4:39 am

I dont think anyone seriously doubts the capability of the F-35 (or F-22), what they doubt is whether the quantity available (which is due to the cost associated with that capability) will be sufficient enough to accomplish the task.

Having an aircraft x times more effective than others is all well and good, but what happens if you have a threat at point A and a threat at point b, but you only have enough planes to handle the threat at point a?

In reality it's a lot more complicated than that, but thats the simplest way to explain what I am getting at.


TMB March 23, 2010 at 5:19 am

I'm not going to second-guess the claims, but I would like to know what the qualification is of those statements. "8 times more effective" equals what in real world terms? Faster prosecution of targets, more ordnance available per sortie, lower cost per kill?


Russ March 24, 2010 at 11:40 am

Then just buy 480 more F-18E/Fs and save even more money.


Russ March 24, 2010 at 11:40 am

The F-22s cost 142 million a piece. If you factor in sunken costs like R&D, you get the $360 million figure.


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