Lockheed Martin consultant Loren Thompson is promoting a rather misleading meme about the cost of the Joint Strike Fighter in a recent blog post.
The idea that an F-35 costs about as much of one of today’s lower-priced fighters, and that it will cost less than many others, was important in paving the way for the truncation of the F-22 program in 2009. It’s important today, as the USAF starts to think about spending serious money on F-16 upgrades, a project that implies lower production rates for the F-35 through the 2020s. It’s important to the international partners, many of whom have assured their voters that they can afford to replace their F-16s and F/A-18s with F-35s.
When you add up all the expenses, though, the cost of manufacturing each F-35A (the Air Force variant) five years from now looks likely to be identical to what manufacturing the latest version of a single-engine F-16 costs today.
Assuming that the production ramp-up in the revised program unfolds as planned, the cost to build each Air Force variant of the plane should fall to $64 million in today's dollars in the tenth production lot, funded in fiscal 2016 and delivered in fiscal 2018. As with the legacy fighters in the force today, that does not include the engine, which the government procures under a separate contract.The rock-bottom unit recurring flyaway cost, in the most recent authoritative source on F-35 costs, the 2011 Selected Acquisition Report, is $84.5 million for the FY2016 buy, for an F-35A in base-year 2012 dollars. Thompson’s number is $9 million lower than the no-engine rollaway price for that year.
Overseas customers are unlikely to buy a fighter costing significantly more than the latest version of fighters they are operating today.Indeed.