Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin’s programme manager for the F-35, told reporters that the cost of the F-35A will drop to about $85 million by 2019.

This is understood to be thanks to efficiencies and cost-cutting manufacturing technologies. The B and C variants designed for the Marine Corps and Navy, which are heavier and purchased in smaller quantities, are not included in the 2019 goal but are however steadily reducing in cost.

By contrast, the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter aircraft cost about $60 million apiece.

Jeff Babione said:

“We think that price with this capability will be unbeatable. You’ll be able to afford a fifth-generation airplane for what would be a fourth-generation price for anything else offered in the free world. The Lockheed/BAE/Northrop Grumman contractor team is hyper-focused on reducing the price of the airplane.”

With the Air Force set to reach F-35 initial operating capability by the end of this year, Babione said Lockheed Martin’s manufacturing facility in Fort Worth, Texas, was busy assembling the largest number of airplanes the program had ever produced at one time. At any given time, he said, there are some 115 F-35s in stages of major sub-assembly.

As we reported at the start of last year, the F-35 programme is often labelled a “trillion-dollar black hole”, the man in charge of the project vehemently disagrees and lays to rest any fears over rising costs.

Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the head of the F-35 joint program office, hosted a press event in 2015 with reporters in defence of the programme, citing constant drops in the cost of the jet.

“It is a fact this program is over budget from 2001’s baseline. It’s just true. We will never underrun that number. We will never save that money. It’s gone. What matters is since that time, what’s happened to the cost on the program? It’s gone down, not gone up. Judge the program today, not where it’s been, but where it is and where it’s going.”

Bogdan also pointed out that 2015’s selected acquisition report (SAR) noted reducing procurement costs, down by $3 billion. The average cost-per-unit in low-rate initial production lots six, seven and eight, the last three lots on contract, have fallen. The below figures also include engines and adjust for inflation and show a continued drop in price.

F-35A conventional takeoff and landing model: $117 million, $112 million, $108 million.
F-35B “jump-jet” model: $145 million, $137 million, $134 million.
F-35C carrier variant: $134 million, $130 million, $129 million.

The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) commented:

“Affordability is the number one priority for the F-35 program and this year’s report reflects another year with significant cost reductions and we’re not stopping there. We will continue to drive costs out of the program. The F-35 Joint Program Office has a disciplined approach to analyzing and reducing sustainment costs. Ongoing activities include conducting a sustainment business case analysis and operating a cost war room to find program savings and attack operational, sustainment and total ownership costs.”

F-35 unit recurring flyaway costs have been going down with each successive lot of aircraft. Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney have track records for delivering the airframe and engine below government SAR estimates and we expect this trend to continue in the future.”

Lorraine Martin, General Manager for the F-35 programme commented on the SAR:

“We are extremely pleased with the nearly $60 billion decrease in Operations and Support costs of the F-35 program during the last year alone. This is a result of a laser focus by the entire government and contractor team on reducing costs across the board whether it’s improving quality in manufacturing, increasing supply chain delivery speed, and dramatically reducing concurrency items. We aren’t stopping here, we have numerous initiatives in place, including the Blueprint for Affordability, that will drive program costs even lower allowing us to provide our warfighters a 5th Generation F-35 jet at a 4th Generation price by the end of the decade.”

The bottom line is that overall programme costs have gone down and continue to massively decrease annually.


  1. I think better to focus on getting what we have working first, and get the eurofighter fully upgraded so it can take over from the tornado.

  2. I believe there was consideration for the ‘A’ variant a few years ago. I couldn’t say whether this was media speculation or not. It came after Philip Hammond sign the initial deal for 48 ‘B’ variants and there was a possibility that the MOD would make up the 138 airframe UK commitment to the f35 programme with replacement of the typhoon in the 2030’s with the ‘A’ variant.

    As the Typhoon has an operation date well into the 2040’s now, It would seem that the ‘A’ variant suggestion is no longer valid and would imagine by the 2040’s the F35 would no long be in production and/or no longer cutting edge.

    Besides the Typhoon with the BVRAAM’s and brimstone would more than likely meet or exceed our RAF needs given budget constraints.

  3. The F35B will be a very capable and potent jet for the RAF and Royal Navy along with the two new 65,000 T carriers. I also think having two multi-role carriers was the best choice for this country, gives the uk military capabilities to suit different scenarios.. Personally i’m very much looking forward to seeing these pieces of kit coming into service.. I think sometimes people need to remember there is only a certain amount that is available to spend on defence, lot’s of other important budgets need money too.. NHS, Schools, Transport and so on.. So Let’s be grateful that we are having these superb 5th generation aircraft and two impressive carriers..

  4. So, reading the small print, this propaganda only refers to the A variant, so is utterly irrelevant to the UK. Nice.

    Should have been buying C variants and fitting out the carriers with cats and traps.

  5. It would be better to invest in some more defensive aircraft, like the growler.

    If we ever need to go against any form of semi modern air defence, the typhoon or f35’s will be very vulnerable.

    • We have recently placed orders on a number of P-8 Poseidon aircraft, which are almost as defensive as it gets when it comes to capabilities and armaments. The Growler was effective in the past but aircraft such as the P-8 are better suited to the UK’s needs now and hopefully in the future.

    • Chris Lewis – “138 is gonna happen. Preportion a to b we will see. I suspect half and half with b first”.

      Quite possible and if it happens, although I suspect it would be driven by politics, it might not be a completely crazy strategy.

      The bad reason – Shift to A half way through the run to save money on the procurement budgets, maybe for tax cuts before some future election, and ignore increased logistics costs vs an all-F35B buy because those won’t hit until a couple of parliamentary terms later so let a future government worry about it. If could also be spun as a capability enhancement due to A’s greater payload and range; most of the UK public are unaware of, and uninterested in, the detail re possible higher ongoing support costs of a split buy let alone the strategy of “cross decking” between land and carrier so the negatives probably don’t matter politically (especially if everyone gets a tax cut from the money “saved”).

      The not-so-bad reason – Agree that a good number of F35B must be procured first so the whole concept of having extra land-based assets and SVTOL trained pilots available to surge at least one carrier to full strength is maintained. The point when 70-ish F35Bs have been procured will be quite a way into the future though and at that point there should be real operational data from the US as to how much commonality in the maintainance and logistics there really is between the A and B variants so a more informed and costed decision could be made as to whether to switch the last 30/40/50% or whatever to A variant was cost effective.

    • That is the current plan, however there are considerations with making later purchases the A model to save money once there are enough B’s to fill the carriers.

  6. So not the b then just the a at present. Biggest mistake was not going cat and trap with F18 and waiting until the f35c became cheaper in years. If you are going to send the QE class to sea with only 6 f35b onboard why make them so big. The invincible class could of taken that number. Especially now they are being modified to take on oceans role so having such major big assets close in to deploy landing crafts and marines is a big no no I’m my book especially with current ciws fit.

    • Cats and traps would have left us with 1 carrier many years later than we will now. QE class has a tailored air group of anything up to 40 f35s and anything imbetween depending on the requirement.

    • Not if they had planned it from the beginning and we still could of had 2. I bet we never see the day where they have 40 aircraft on board let alone 40 f35. I expect we might see a day when they are cat and trap converted though. I worry they are being asked to perform a jack of all trades role. This upgrading (they call it) of POW to take landing craft and a higher number of marines is stupid. If you are going to build a 60,000tne carrier then let’s get it doing what it does best and deploy fighter aircraft. The Navy know this they just are great full to be getting anything like this given the cuts they have faced.

      • Not sure I agree that cat &a trap would have been a particularly easy or cheap amendment even if planned from the beginning and it would have lost us the capability to rapidly deploy land-based planes and pilots onto the carriers if required. We aren’t the USA and we just can’t afford even 36 of our F35 fleet permanently assigned to a single carrier let alone 72 if both carriers were ever at sea at the same time plus with deep maintenance and training/conversion units those numbers would be higher.

        I do however share your concerns regarding the dual-purposing of the POW for amphibious assault capabilities especially when one looks at the costs and capabilities of the French Mistral class ships. The price of cat & trap conversion on the carriers would probably easily pay for a pair of Mistrals, maybe even 3. With the excellent hospital facilities in the Mistrals (69 permanent + 50 temporary beds vs 100 for RFA Argus and both with lots of high-end diagnostic equipment, ICU & operating theatres) they could also serve as much-needed Argus replacements as well as an HMS Ocean replacement. Given the hospital and significant humanitarian capabilities maybe a contribution could even be made from the foreign aid budget. A bit off-topic for an F35 thread but felt the need to explain why I agree with you on that one.

    • What Ifs are brilliant with hindsight but so would everything. So that’s not an argument. We are getting over 130 f35b so why do you think we won’t see 40 on board ever? And I asked the question about putting troops ashore and was told that under combat conditions they would be landed using helecopter from a safe distance and only use landing craft in a benign situation. Yes it would be lovely to have dedicated ships for every role but we don’t and will never have the budget to do it.

    • It was not an argument but a point. The RAF are already arguing over control of the aircraft. The plan is for over 130 but I’ll believe when I see it. If we do don’t think all will be in service at the same time. Service, training, RAF deployment. You will never see 40 f35b on a QE class I’ll put my house and navy pension on it. Any surge in air power on board would mean a war setting one would presume where the air group as you all ready pointed out would be tailored. As they are being asked to take on a heavier troop carrying role now this would not include just f35 as for carrying troops in by helicopter that depends on the scenario and threat and equipment carried. You don’t see the yanks doing this. They have a lot more experience in modern carrier operations than we do. Even the role they are using the f35b is different. It’s for the marines and CAS role where we are expecting ours to do everything. Fleet defence etc. Not that it won’t prove to be up to the job just in my experience a jack of all trades is a master of none. Time will tell but I don’t think on carrier operations you can put a price. We have really been lucky no big conflict has broken out and we have learnt some lessons from the Falklands. For the men and women who have to go on deployment on these things I’m just not sure the best options all round have been chosen and it became about saving £££. Just like the 45 power plant cock up.

  7. The only reason to fully equip out the carriers, is if we have something like Falklands mark2, which seesm extremely unlikely.

    My assumption is that most of the time these will be mainly carrying helicopters.

    The changes to the prince of wales does bring extra weight to the purchase of the osprey. Putting the carriers too close to shore, becasue of the limited range of the harriers, caused a lot of issues in the falkladns, which i assume should be solved by the longer range of the f35. This then being undone by relying on the range of helicopters is just silly.

  8. I think if we were starting the design process now, we’d probably go for 3 no ~45,000 ton vessels fitted with EMALS cats & traps. But 20 years ago, when the design actually started, a cost effective option for that was still probably 30 years into the future (ie, 10 years from now). So I guess we’ve all gotta just live with it until the Queen Elizabeth class retires.


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