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A string of tweets posted by President-elect Donald Trump have been interpreted by many to signal the end of the F-35, the reality is seemingly quite different.

It’s now clear that Trump sought to cut F-35 costs, not cancel the hugely valuable programme which supports more than 151,000 direct and indirect jobs in the US and tens of thousands more around the world.

Marillyn Hewson President and Chief Executive Officer of Lockheed Martin said she had a “very good conversation” with Trump and that she had “heard his message loud and clear about reducing the cost of the F-35”, according to a statement released by Lockheed Martin.

Trump tweeted earlier in the month:

“Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35 I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”

Hewson added later that the conversation was “productive” and that she had “conveyed our commitment to delivering an affordable aircraft to our military and our allies.”

The president-elect later relented, revealing his intentions and confirming what many in the industry had suspected, that this was simply an effort to drive down costs.

“It’s a little bit of a dance. But we’re going to get the cost down.”

At peak, the F-35 will support 25,000 jobs in the UK over the next few decades and pump £1bn a year into the economy. Cliff Robson, Senior Vice-President for the F-35 Lightning II programme at BAE Systems, said in an interview, referring to the estimated British 25,000 jobs either directly created or supported in the F-35 supply chain.

“It’s cheap when you look at what that investment is returning to the UK.”

When the jet reaches peak production, the programme will be worth some £1 billion to UK industry alone, according to research by KPMG the accounting firm. An estimated 25,000 UK jobs will be sustained across more than 500 companies in the supply chain.

The F-35 features a significant amount of British developed components, in addition to 15% of every jet sold globally being built in Britain. As the only Level 1 partner, the United Kingdom has garnered tremendous economic benefits from the F-35. British industry will build 15% of each of the more than 3,000 planned F-35s, in addition to a large volume of British developed aircraft systems including the electronic warfare suite.

The programme at peak will generate significant export revenue and GDP growth for the US, UK and many other partner nations.

A spending report earlier in the year also showed a steady cost drop for all variants of the F-35. On the 24th of March 2016, the annual Selected Acquisition Reports (SAR) for 2015 was released. It has been revealed that the Pentagon’s estimate for the total acquisition cost of the F-35 program is $379 billion, down from $391 billion projected in 2014.

According to a statement from the F-35’s project office:

“The overall Acquisition Cost (RDT&E, Procurement, and MILCON) of the program decreased by $7B in base year 2012 dollars (BY12$) and $12.1B in then-year dollars (TY$). The increase of $16B (BY12) and $95.2 (TY$) to Total Program Cost is the net impact resulting from a transfer of $300M to RDT&E, a $7.5B decrease in Procurement, an approximately $200M increase in MILCON, and a $23B increase in O&S.

The RDT&E increase is the result of a transfer of money from the Procurement account to the RDT&E account to fund the modification of 24 Operational Test aircraft for Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, in accordance with Service guidance.

This transfer out of Procurement into RDT&E had zero net effect on Total Program Cost.”

According to F-35 Joint Program Office chief Lt. Gen Christopher Bogdan earlier in the year:

“We are coming down the learning curve and the price curve a little steeper. We are coming down the price curve faster than we anticipated years ago.”

The average unit cost of the aircraft decreased by:

$1.8M for the F-35A
$0.7M for the F-35B
$1.0M for the F-35C

Babione later 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 are also steadily reducing in cost.

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

The estimate of annual operating cost decreased by an average of two percent and the estimated steady state cost per flying hour decreased by:

2.2 percent for the F-35A,
3.3 percent for the F-35B,
4.2 percent for the F-35C

These reductions were reportedly the result of improved maintainability and sustainability as the aircraft matures, the design stabilises, and maintenance of the aircraft becomes more efficient and effective.

F-35 unit costs have been going down with each successive lot of aircraft and will continue to.

29 COMMENTS

    • While I agree with the general thrust of that statement, it is still fair to say that if the F35 had been three separate aircraft programmes , at least one of them would have been cancelled by now, leaving one of the services without the aircraft it needs.

  1. It would take a complete halfwit with the mental capacity of a retarded sloth to cancel a program which is almost completed and after so much has been invested. Sh*t Trump is in charge!

    • Don’t be too hard on him, after all, I seem to remember someone cancelled the MRA4 Nimrod and shoved all the kit into a Boeing 737…and I wonder how long before we lease them out to Thomas Cook Airlines like the Voyagers for the Costa del Sol runs 😉

  2. Whatever the cost of the F35 further investment in the Super Hornet would be flushing money down the plug hole in a World where it is already obsolete. Not to mention the urgent need to design an builde its eventual replacement. Scary that a Supposed top notch businessman wouldn’t realise that without the experts, one presumes, pointing it out.

  3. If Trump were to cancel the F35 (not that I think it will happen ) all those US allies who are in the process of procuring the aircraft would never trust any defence project from the US again.

      • Luckily not really.

        The jets are now designed and fully functional and so if the worst case happened and the US cancelled their order, the UK could still buy them. The problem would be that as we haven’t placed a firm order yet, the unit cost would just be significantly increased, but we wouldn’t have much choice but to proceed. I guess the other option would be to switch to cat/trap, should that option be cheaper due to the jet price increase.

      • interesting that the u.s has over 115 of the f15 in reactivation state if needed) or sale to other nations at the preservation complex in tuscon arizona’s boneyard(google it, maybe we should have our harriers back for the price of 1 cancelled f 35b, or, go shopping for the R.A.F. how long will it be before enough of the f 35b are in the u.k. for attachment to the carriers, production appears slow, to say the least

    • It would have no impact on the carriers. We would just have to fork out the extra money that is linked to the lower build volume and so lower economies of scale.

      • The cost of procurement, maintenance and support of building a small batch of F35B would be unaffordable for the UK defence budget.

        The point is if the the US ditched the F35B, then the project would be terminated.

        That is real world thinking rather fanciful notions of the UK going it alone.

        The US defence budget has a large black hole in it even before Trump begins to apply his ideas of lower government spending and tax cuts. So the reality is that the future will be different from the one currently envisaged.

        Personally I think the F35C is the vulnerable, and could be replaced by a version of the F18 and a deep strike UAS.

        The F35B less so but I would not put money on it going ahead unless LM can cut costs by 20%.

        So the B and C scrapped to save the F35A variant?

  4. They are being built by a commercially listed company, and so even if the US pulled out, Lockheed would still be trying to sell their planes to other countries. The only thing Trump could do to mess us over at this stage (ignoring the cost increase) would be to withdraw the export licence for the jets, but that seems extremely unlikely, we would have to really really piss him off to achieve that.

  5. The expected total cost of the F35 programme for the US.

    US $ 1.508 trillion (through 2070 in then-year dollars), US$55.1B for RDT&E, $319.1B for procurement, $4.8B for MILCON, $1123.8B for operations & sustainment (2015 estimate)

    Most of the money hasn’t been spent yet, one could see how someone could turn around and say I am saving hundreds of billions of dollars by cutting the F35 programme, whilst ignoring the impact on US military capability.

    At the start the F35 promised so much, but time has eroded it’s presumed capability and dramatically increased its actual cost.

    There’s a lesson there for future politicans, but I doubt anyone will learn that lesson

    • The problem is the numbers look extreme as raw numbers, but then you have to divide them by the numbers of jets that the US are buying, which is also an extreme number (over 2,000 i think) and also adjust the prices for inflation.

      The f35 is not a cheap plane but neither is it extremely expensive, when compared against competitors and considering it changes the game through its radar stealthy design.

      • I agree the costs for the procurement of the F35 given its capability is reasonable.

        However we were told at its inception the F35 would be half the cost of a F18 and even taking into account inflation the F35 in considerably more expensive than envisaged.

        The original justification for the F35 was capability, low cost and concurrency amounts all variants. If they had known then what we know now the F35 programme would have been rejected.

        My personal opinion is that too much was demanded of the F35 and this resulted in the cost overruns and time delays.

        I hope the F35 program proceeds and major cost reductions can be achieved, however I think the C variant should be scrapped.

      • Unfortunately a lot has been mentioned abut a cost which is entirely is:
        – Entirely guessed
        – Has no precedent.

        If I recall, one of the Congressional commitees asked the JPO for this number and they came up with what they did…..
        It is a pointless number though…
        Estimating the cost of every litre of fuel used by 2,400 jets out to 2070 in ‘THEN YEAR’ dollars…..
        What does it matter?
        Especially considering that this price was never asked of the predecessor aircraft so there is no frame of comparison.

        • It’s an estimate against which actual costs will be measured.

          Much the same as the cost of a F35A was estimated to be US$30m in 1997. Allowing for inflation that would around US$50m today.

          Estimated costs usually underestimate actual costs even when inflation is allowed for. The true cost of the entire of F35 program is likely to be significantly higher than the estimate.

          It matters because if the defence budget doesn’t grow in line with costs then at some point in the future significant cuts to capability have to be made as we have seen with UK defence capability.

          A failure to plan, is a plan for failure.

          • The main problem is feature creep and is always the same with long term projects, no matter whether it is IT projects for big multinational companies or defence purchases.

            In this case, what was seen as cutting edge in 1997, no doubt has to be changed to take into account lessons learnt from 2 major ways since then. As such, to a point, you have to make a decision, do you keep the original cost estimate and get a plane that is now out of date or do you update it to new tech / requirements and so pay more.

            We could build some new tornados, probably for less per airframe, but they are years out of date and have been proven to be extremely vulnerable to semi-modern air defence and so would be terrible value for money, as we would have cheap planes that can’t be used when needed.

  6. When LM won contract for F-35 late 2001 LM promised operational a/c in 2008 for USAF F-35A and USMC F-35B and 2010 for USN F-35C, with budget just under $200 billion for a total of 2,866 a/c.
    Now understand current budget is 100% overspent at $390 billion for 409 fewer a/c, 2,457.
    UK F-35B’s RAF/RN looking at 2025+ for the necessary Block 4 software updates so as to be fully operational a/c that can use Brimstone 2, ASRAAM CSM and Meteor, until then will have rely on the original ASRAAM which came into service in 1998 and Paveway bomb and so limited stand off capability.
    The $85 million quoted by LM for USAF F-35A excludes its engine.

  7. A great deal of Chest Pounding by Donald Trump to No Avail. Even an Executive Order by President Donald J. “Junior Samples” Trump, ISN’T going to cancel the F-35 JSF Program. If was “That Simple”, Obama would have already done so. The F-35 JSF Program was funded in 2010 by H.R. (US House Resolution) Bill 3326. By the US House of Representatives in 16 September 2010 and the US Senate in 19 September 2010, then Ratified on 19 September 2010 by President Obama. “Obama”, your probably asking yourselves, YES “Obama”. The US Hse. of Rep. passed the Bill with a 395 to 34 Vote and the US Senate by a 88 to 10 Vote. BOTH Votes were “Supermajority” Votes which exceed the Presidents Right to Veto. A Supermajority Vote by the US Hse. of Rep. is Anything above 290 Votes and the US Senate by above 67 Votes. Let TRUMP continue Chest Pounding until he Breaks His Ribs, to No Avail. The “ODDs” of BOTH the Hse and Senate Overriding the Bill are between “Nil and Nothing”, because of Too Many US Congressional Fingers in the US Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2010 “Cookie Jar”…

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