Operating costs were a big issue when senior military officials from the United States, Israel and F-35 user nations in Europe – Britain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, the Netherlands – met in Germany last week, according to reports.

“We discussed the importance of ensuring that future costs – specifically for sustainment – are kept to a minimum so that we don’t have to cut into future purchases,” U.S. Air Force Colonel Leslie Hauck, who heads the fifth generation integration office at the U.S. Air Force headquarters in Europe, told Reuters here.

This comes not long after the Pentagon’s estimated cost to develop and purchase Lockheed the F-35, has stabilised for now, according to a new report to the US Congress.

The total acquisition cost for the fighter is projected at $406.1 billion, virtually unchanged from the $406.5 billion estimated last year, according to the US Defense Department’s latest Selected Acquisition Report.

Within the total — which includes research, development and initial support such as spare parts and military construction — the estimated cost to procure 2,456 U.S. aircraft has ticked down to $345.4 billion from $346.1 billion, or a 0.2 percent decline.

That’s good news for the F-35, which has wide support in Congress but a past marred by cost overruns. Last year, the annual acquisition report on major weapons estimated that costs would rise about 7 percent to $406.5 billion after several years of declining projections.

57 COMMENTS

  1. If typhoon gets aesa radar I’m starting to come round to the idea of stopping at two carrier based squadrons of f35b and instead increasing number of multi role typhoons to take over from tornado. Ready, steady, go…

      • Jaralodo, that would be daft!
        If the UK operates both variants thanyou have duplication of cost, duplication of training. Whilst without any doubt the B variant is the most operationally flexible and survivable. You cannot stop a VSTOVL aircraft from launching or landing but you can destroy the runway infrastructure for the A variant.
        Also we have 2 expensive capable fleet carriers. Both of which can easily accommodate the entire UK fleet of F35Bs each.
        I would like to think a minimum follow on order of 48 further F35Bs are the bare minimum needed by the armed forces.

        • Looks like a Number of nations are now thinking about getting the F35b after years of seeing nations falling out of the fixed wing carrier game we may in the next few years start to see an increase.

        • I agree that another 48 of the B variant should be ordered, that would bring the total number to 96 jets out of the 138 the MoD has pledged to buy. Assuming that is the total number of F35’s that are bought, that would leave 42 more that are still to be acquired. According to this Popular Mechanics article from April (https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/aviation/a19757413/f-35-production-price-drop/) the price for an F35A is $94.3 million vs $122.4 million for the F35B, or roughly £20 million per plane. That would be a total savings of around £840 million for the final 42 jets.

          Not only would the per jet price be less expensive, but I’m pretty sure the maintenance cost per jet is cheaper for the A variant as well, which would help offset the cost of having to buy some different parts as the two variants are obviously not fully interchangeable.

          As for the training costs though, the tactical aspect of training should be the same for both jets so there really shouldn’t be that much additional training needed. And the if RAF is primarily going to be operating from airfields with runways, might as well get them a variant that can carry both more fuel and weapons while still giving them a stealth platform.

          • (Chris H) jaralodo – I will ask you the same question I ask everyone who suggests the RAF should buy the ‘A’ rather than the ‘B’ variant.

            Why on earth would we buy an aircraft that is, apart from sensor fusion, less capable in every aspect of operation than a Typhoon? The F-35A is slower, barely Supercruises, fewer weapons, less agile and shorter range range

            And given we have the same sensor fusion on a ‘B’ as we would have on an ‘A’ why give up the operational flexibility and skill sets we developed and perfected with Harrier? Can an ‘A’ land in a forest clearing?

            If we don’t need 138 or it turns out to be less capable than we thought or the price fails to drop as predicted then we should divert those saved funds to buy extra Typhoons. Better still set aside initial purchase funding for Tempest

          • Chris – basically the circumstances I think they should acquire the A is if they continue to commit to 138 F35s in total. I didn’t disagree with Anthony when he said to upgrade the Typhoon, I just misread the total number he was suggesting. But again, if 138 is the number as has been confirmed multiple times now, then the MoD might as well save some money by purchasing the A variant. I understand that there is advantages the stovl variant has, such as landing in forest clearings as you say. But there is also advantages in having more fuel/weapons on board, while still maintaining a stealthy profile, such as a strike into highly contested enemy territory. Might as well have both options at your disposal while saving some money in the process. Again, that is if 138 F35s in total are purchased. First priority should be making sure both carriers have the jets they need.

        • My fault for not really paying attention to everything Anthony was saying in the original post. Was assuming he meant two squadrons per ship and obviously I am assuming they are going through with the purchase of 138 jets, which is what I meant by switching some of the the order, even though most haven’t actually been ordered yet.

          • The intended 138 F35 airframes is over the entire lifetime of the aircraft, allowing for replacements etc. It is highly unlikely we’ll ever have 138 flying and operational planes at any one time, unless there is a major U turn in strategy

      • Jaraldo wrote:
        “Either that, or at a minimum switch some of the F35 order to the cheaper A variant for the RAF.”

        That reminded how a few years ago. Labour was demanding we purchased cheaper Russian jets in which to save money.

      • The US has already funded development efforts for a sixth generation fighter for the USAF and US Navy. In addition it has just committed billions to develop an adaptive engine for that sixth generation fighter and as an upgrade engine for the F-35.

        The US has already made the decision that the sixth generation fighter will not be a joint program for the Navy and Air Force and, to specifically address your point, under no circumstances will it involve foreign governments but will be an exclusive US program. You can forget the US having anything to do with Tempest.

        • My gut feeling is that tempest is the UK showing a bit of leg so that it’s a potential partner to someone, whether that’s Saab, LM, Boeing, mitsubishi, dassualt or several partners. I can’t see us being able to afford the development costs alone and the airframe numbers would be to much of a risk alone. Typhoon was something like 12billion and a sixth generation fighter will be allot more than that! As partnerships, f35b and typhoon are good results, why go it alone?

  2. We only have money for 2 aircraft frames – Typhoon is great and so is the F35.

    the UK has committed to the F35B and it is a good choice on many levels, if we sort Taranis/Magma out and pair them up it is a game changer.

    Typhoon is great, but its had its heyday and we need to move onto Tempest as our F22 competitor.

    So no – to more Typhoon other than getting the fleet size right and yes to Tempest and Taranis/Magma and an operational fleet of at least 96 F35B’s

    • Agree. That is sound advice. We have to look to the future. Any further typhoon aircraft have to be constructed to maintain force levels until Tempest comes into play.

    • Typhoon can still be used to derisk weapons and sensors for any new airframe. The Typhoon flying in 15 years time will be more capable than those flying today.

    • I disagree – Typhoon is just approaching its golden years and will be highly relevant for years to come with the correct developments in the pipe. Tempest can take some of the newer developments from Typhoon which may massively de-risk it. Prefer evolution to revolution. Revolution costs too much and takes 10 years to de-bug.

  3. I can’t help thinking that some seaboard countries will regret in future not having standardised on the B version – like the UK for instance. Large numbers of them being ordered would drive down the unit cost, without the need to carry the overhead of different types.

  4. Each carrier can hold over 70 aircraft (wired interview with QEC Capt), so taking 48 F35 on each would necessitate a 96 strong operational fleet to allow us to surge 2 carriers with 48 each.

    Unlikely we would use that, but that’s the point of the military it is a last resort and we didn’t see the falklands, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Gulf 1 and 2 or afghanistan did we.

    • Plus the training and maintenance contingent…

      However, it seems like an unlikely scenario to need to field two maxed out carriers at the same time. Only one of those examples required us to max out our flat top capacity. Plus in coalition with the f35b partner nation we could host some. Food for thought.

  5. Pacman. I don’t think typhoon has peaked yet with meteor, brimstone and storm shadow yet to be integrated, aesa radar yet to be procured, conformal fuel tanks and thrust vectoring in the development pipeline. Tempest is what, three decades or more off, if we use typhoon as a rule of thumb. Plenty of legs left in the design if new buyers drive the innovation. Fingers crossed for a German, Belgian and even polish buy! We could add to this but replacing typhoon.

    Mr bell. F35b is surely too short range and light on ordnance for the RAF deep strike role and probably too expensive to run for close air support in low threat environment. Given the commonality presumably f35a would increase range, payload and unit cost. Is runway denial still likely given the Denise of the society union enormous offensive airforce?

    How much day one air defence suppression capability do we really need, aren’t these normally deployed from the sea, and couldn’t the FAA do a bit of jointery if it had to be land based?

    • (Chris H) Anthony – Tempest has a target date before Typhoon is retired in 2040. So deliveries after 2035. That is only 17 years away. Although the ‘official’ line is “2040s” to be in service by then means we have to have done developmental work and started production to phase in deliveries as Tranche 1 Typhoons are retired. They don’t necessarily have to be the full on finished article as Typhoon wasn’t.

      This is an interesting piece (by a respected American commentator interviewing key Tempest people):

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogAtFy3q3xk

      • Chris, those timelines seem aspirational to me. Unless tempest is merely a super typhoon, with greater sensor fusion and drones control.

  6. Thanks all for thoughts. I think tempest is a shop window for future partners and not yet a credible successor to typhoon. I think vstol in non maritime context is no longer relavent. I think typhoon has a lot more to give and if it has a good run of asditional orders and enhancements make it viable beyond 2040. I think f35b is too light on range and payload for deep strike and too expensive to fly for close air support. I don’t think we need as many as four squadrons or more for kixking in the front door for typhoon to do it’s job. However, I see the logic in the full f35b buy allowimg the UK to flex the max air wing through carrier strike if ever needed. It would also be very damaging to reneg on our commitment to buy 138. So as we are then. 😀

  7. To me it never made sense having the RAF operate the F35 at all. Surely it would make sense to operate full contingents of F35’s for the navy and if necessary bolster the RAF’s strike capability with strategic bombers such as the B1b Lancer supported by an increase in number of Typhoons

  8. I read an article a few days ago now, can’t remember which site it was on, with 7 or 8 American F35 pilots interviewed.
    For those that criticise the jet, all of them confirmed that they would choose to fly the F35 over their old jets and have repeatedly defeated all 4th generation in mock dogfights. It was also stated that this is without the upcoming software updates which will unlock the jets real potential.
    I think we have to trust that the real capabilities of the F35 are classified and that over £400 billion or so development cost is likely to deliver a significant capability. Let’s not get caught up on released figures of speed, turn rate and range – I would imagine they are mostly false so as not to give away it’s true strength. Let’s hope!

    • Or rather than false, f35 detects and attacks 4th generation before it can be detected and attacked. In other words before performance becomes a factor.

  9. Janes Defence
    March 2018

    “The Pentagon is facing a major potential F-35 Block 4/C2D2 cost increase
    This could add between USD6.9 billion and USD12.5 billion more to the Pentagon’s most expensive platform.

    The Pentagon is facing a cost increase for what was known as Block 4 modernisation of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) ranging between USD6.9 billion and USD12.5 billion, according to a key lawmaker and a Defense Department official.

    Subcommittee Ranking Member Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts said the total cost for C2D2 could reach USD16.4 billion through FY 2024”

    And somebody has to pay for it, including us!

    https://www.janes.com/article/78443/pentagon-faces-major-cost-increase-on-f-35-block-4-modernisation.”

  10. “Operating costs were a big issue when senior military officials from the United States, Israel and F-35 user nations in Europe – Britain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, the Netherlands – met in Germany last week, according to reports.”

    Could this be one of the reasons?

    “Economists who predicted the 2008 global meltdown tell Sky News the world economy is in danger once again.

    “We have a national GDP of $20tn, but debt of $21tn. Our national debt is growing by $1tn per year.

    “We keep on promising things to people without the means to pay for it. It will just become harder and harder to deal with it.”

    Stuart Plesser, a senior director at the rating agency Standard & Poor’s, is one of the most respected banking analysts in America.”

    https://news.sky.com/story/next-financial-crisis-has-begun-and-will-be-worse-than-2008-crash-economists-warn-11497433

  11. Why do we have a FAA and RAF, why do we need two air services? If the two services are going to share jets, why not just merge the services and reduce overheads.

    Beyond legacy (from an era where the two were much larger) and this is how we have always done it, what is the logic of having the two seperate?

    • I think there is an inherent fear that a raf led service would leave the carriers bereft of aircraft or at the very least under prepared to deploy. I believe this may have happened when carrier aviation was getting off the ground. However, we’re in a different century now and carrier strike is a opportunity for the raf too. Jointery needs to be enforced by the CDS and MoD to make it viable to merge the faa into the raf. There are lots of other duplicative capabilities that a force the size of the U.K. Armed forces can no longer tolerate. some painful mergers and transfers are required to increase force effectiveness. But I’ve never served so could be talking out of my derrière.

      • How can there not be massive overheads, considering they don’t share bases or command structure? The front line unit is only a fraction of the cost of running a fighter, behind it is massive cost, which i doubt is a shared pool

          • F35 is not the only FAA asset and sharing a base is only part of the cost. Ok not a huge cost, but a rear admiral is in charge of the FAA, so that is probably around £2m in cost alone, once you take into account wages, benefits and pensions, it all adds up.

          • Its not about cheaper or expensive of either service, its about duplication of costs, and whether combining them would reduce the overheads. I am just asking for a debate, what would be the negatives of combining the service and what would the positives be.

        • So the FAA transfers to the RAF.

          And you’d need a reborn 18 Group to oversee the assets, with an AVM in charge just like the RA for the RN.

          The rest of the FAA operate from Culdrose, an all RN station, and Yeovilton, another mostly naval station now with army too with the cuts which took place in the AAC estate.

          The FAA operate in a naval environment. They are part of the RN. Moving them dies not take away the need for support train personnel logistics and all the rest. They just change uniform.

          To me the ideas as bad as giving Typhoons to the army, I’ve read that here before.

          Different environments should have their own service IMO. There are already considerable “purple” operations with the JFC and areas of training. These areas it makes sense IMO.

          I’m also biased as the RAF is my favourite of the three services and the fairly regular calls on this site to disband it and merge it into the Royal Navy irritate!

          Sorry I’m against it Steve. Let the RN who are the specialists operate the stuff which exists in that environment.

          • Hi Danielle, you make good points in favour of a split but are the domains really separate? Littoral ops involve all three. For me flying is flying, with RAF operating over water now and even operating Poseidon. Looking at it from the outside it’s illogical and I suspect based on concern that jointery is superficial. RAF expertise is clearly stuff that flies and needs to believe in the doctrine of flying off naval platforms, providing close air support, battlefield recon alongside strategic lift and deep strike and territorial air defence. Perhaps force numbers are now too small to operate separate air arms, and that goes for Apache too. Breed and enforce jointery…incrementally if needs be. Same argument for airfield defence and commandos. Every deployment then has all services involved.

          • Hi Anthony.

            Probably the area of the RAF SHF and the AAC is the closest IMO.

            Would be an interesting outcome if we follow the logic through of services taking all assets according to domain.

            Where could we end up?

            RAF:

            RAF gains all aviation from the FAA.
            RAF gains all assets from the AAC.

            RAF loses RAF Regiment to the Army.

            Big win for RAF on assets and personnel.

            ARMY:

            Gains the RAF Regiment.
            Gains the Royal Marines.

            Loses 17 Port and Maritime Regiment RLC to the RN as it operates boats.

            Big win for the Army in personnel.

            ROYAL NAVY:

            Loses the FAA to the RAF.
            Loses the Royal Marines to the Army.

            Gains 17 PAMR.

            RN loses out all round.

            For me it is all changing uniforms with still overheads at the end of it, which was the original question.

            Some things can be joint as I mentioned with the JFC, training, basing, Cyber, and a whole list of other background stuff which is already happening.

            Some should not. For me the ship born environment of operating Lynx and Merlin helicopters in ASW operations is rightfully the domain of the Royal Navy.

            Cheers!

  12. You shall not forget that, over it”s lifetime, a F35 is from 3 to 4 times more expensive that a Typhoon. It is mainly because of the exorbitant cost per flight hour of the plane (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/us-air-force-report-confirms-exorbitant-f35-hour-flight-fabrice-wolf/). The typhon is very capable, mostly when remembering it is aim to face Su30/35 and not F22. and the stealthness (as used on F35) is becoming less and less a real advantage over new Denial systems.(https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/typhoon-vs-f-35-shall-fighter-jet-stealthy-fabrice-wolf/).
    About Tempest, well it would be really a shame that european countries could’nt figure how to collaborate in something better that 2 times barely the same plane as typhon and rafale are. It is required to imagine something different (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/scaf-program-extended-european-scale-possible-how-finance-wolf/)
    BR

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