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.