Navy-F-35C unaffordable?

Strangely missing from this slide is cost of ownership for the Super Hornet. Click image to make larger

The F-35 program starts the year having to show credible results before the U.S. defense budget for 2011 gets locked in.

Gates will be around a while longer. He is now in the middle of a controversy that he helped sustain. That is; in his world, everything was going great with the F-35 program and there wasn’t much to worry about. That was the message for most of 2009. His service chiefs perpetuated the myth of F-35 program health. In the end, the DOD suppressed reports of F-35 ill program health in order to get the F-22 cancelled.

A report to the DOD by the Navy claims that F-35 operating costs are going to be no bargain.

Note: find in that article the "Congressional aide" must be a Kit Bond (Super Hornet assembled in his district) Boeing fan along with the "industry source" that has to be Boeing. The "$5000 per hour" claim to run a Super Hornet is missing a few colors of money.

Real or perceived, this matters to the graduates from the boat school that have to figure out how to pay for even more expensive grey floaty things in an era of troubled budgets. This report has to be considered on several levels not least is the already mentioned seal of approval given to the program last year when the Navy boss fibbed in front of our elected officials.

History is no help. Lockheed Martin has briefed on several occasions over the years that the F-35 is as cheap to maintain and sustain as a legacy fighter aircraft. Who is right? With all the other claims that have come up to be unproven by Lockheed Martin and the gone-native DOD F-35 program office; can we believe anything they say?

In the beginning of the last decade, LM published a paper stating that the F-22 was designed to be maintenance friendly. That is that only 5 percent of the maintenance actions would require refurbishment of the stealth material of the aircraft. Initial operating capability for the F-22 was declared in 2005. It took the USAF a while to build up tribal knowledge on how to maintain and sustain the F-22. This is that real world thing separated from claims of earlier PowerPoint warriors where real maintainers in real active F-22 squadrons take time to get their skills up. It wasn’t until 2009 that the USAF got things figured out to where F-22s deployed and had nice, high mission capable rates. This would be normal for most new types of aircraft.

The F-35 is designed to have around 1-2 percent of its maintenance actions require refurbishment of stealth materials. We really don’t know how much money it will cost to sustain an F-35 squadron. There have been no real maintainers from real Navy (or other services) units that have flown it in day to day operations. Until this happens we will not know. With the development problems of the aircraft—along with much flight testing to be done—it will be a very long time before we see a run of 4 to 5 years of operational flying. For this, F-22 problems in early IOC years will be F-35 problems in early IOC years.

It is doubtful if many of these facts will get to the decision makers for the 2011 defense budget intact. Meanwhile, Boeing is right there with the Super Hornet ready to sign up the Navy for a safe opportunity to go low-risk and enjoy a new-car smell.

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24 thoughts on “Navy-F-35C unaffordable?

  1. Guess you could as well name that “F-35B unaffordable”.
    Those equal acquisition numbers and almost equal fh/y numbers are suspect. On what are they based?
    And I just can’t believe that the F-35B will cost the same per f/h as the F-35C.
    The article says across the whole Hornet fleet the average is 5000 USD per f/h, not just for the SHornet. In any case 19 – 5 = 14, meaning the Harrier is three times as expensive to operate than a Hornet?
    How does that translate into F-35B O&S = F-35C O&S???
    Or am I reading something wrong here?

  2. 1 thing i dont understand is why order any F-35 till testing is complete. A stripped down block 3 version
    wont be ready before 2016 to 2018. Thats a F-35 that can do what F-16 can do today or even less.
    Who in their wisdom decides to order F-35 while you can buy F-22 F-18 F-15 F-16 etc that gonne get the job
    done for another 20 years. And affordable too.
    I will say it again buy of the shelve and in your budget untill something better comes along.
    As for the F-35 program its going downhill and the cost per flighthour is just another push
    in that direction. The whole combination of testing not finished but buying F-35 is absurd.
    LM be better of just test a few more years or just cancel the whole project while they still got
    good alternatives on the production line in the factory.
    This whole combination wont work. It will only will work against the F-35 program.
    But they fail to see this. I know there work good people for LM but the managment is made
    up from the same out of touch people who brought us the credit crisis.
    The clock on the F-35 program started ticking. It to LM do do the right thing.
    I expect a lot of surprises this year. Gonne be intresting.

  3. Distiller, one of the reasons that the Harrier cost SOO much to maintains is that you have to remove the top of the jet (including the wing) to remove the engine for maintenance.

    Vince, have you seen the dates, or do you just make them up? Blk 3 will be in operational squadrons (OT&E) in late 2013 in the current schedule. Even with the worst-case delay that JET predicts, that is 2015 at the latest, not 2016-2018.

    What can the F-16 do that a Blk3 F-35 cannot? I can name a ton that the F-35 can do that the F-16 cannot, especially USAF F-16s.

    • Aware of the Harrier engine issue. Nice picture below, btw!

      Still with the clutch, the gearbox, and the moveable nozzles and doors of the vertilift system the F-35B *has* to have higher maintenance requirements than the F-35C with just its wing fold (both operated in a salt water environ).

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  5. They said the F-22 was unaffordable too. Everyone complains about the problem, but no one has a legitimate solution. Canceling the F-35 is not a solution without a viable alternative.

  6. No. The point missed is the LM propaganda trying to spin the yarn that the JET reports were “worst case” with not a shred of proof to back up the theory. This is yet another effort to make the clueless believe everything is just peachy. History usually will show things like the JET report as not “worst case”.

    • You diverting again. My reply was to Vince’s estimated availability date EVEN WITH THE JET delay.

      btw, It was a DoD officer, not LM, that said JET was, and always has been, a “worst case” scenario.

      • I am sure they both said it. Which probably means it was inferred in an LM PowerPoint briefing to Carter–

        U.S. Says Lockheed Must Pay Part of F-35 Cost Overruns

        WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s top acquisition official said on Monday that Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the new F-35 fighter jet, would have to cover part of the increased costs of the huge program.

        The official, Ashton B. Carter, an under secretary of defense, said he had delivered that message to the company’s chief executive, Robert J. Stevens, on Sunday at a meeting on how to get the program back on track.

        The meeting was prompted by an internal Pentagon report suggesting that work on the new stealth fighter, the Pentagon’s largest weapons program, had fallen so far behind that it could cost $16.6 billion more than expected over the next few years.

        Dr. Carter told reporters that the Pentagon might add more planes to the flight test program and encourage the company to hire more software engineers to finish the planes faster.

        Lockheed Martin has described the latest Pentagon cost estimates as a worst case. It has said it is making manufacturing improvements that could keep the costs from ballooning and help it get back on schedule by 2011.

        Dr. Carter said he wanted to make changes now to bolster the program, which could cost $300 billion for more than 2,400 planes, to be bought over 25 years.

        Other officials have said that the Pentagon could add more than $200 million to the program’s budget for the 2011 fiscal year. Dr. Carter said it would make sense to invest more soon to try to head off some of the problems.

        “I think both the government and Lockheed Martin should be prepared to share in that investment,” he said, adding that company officials had agreed to accept whatever plan emerged.

        While many Pentagon programs have had worse delays and cost overruns, the problems on the F-35 have occurred as President Obama has promised to eliminate much of the waste in military programs.

        At the Pentagon’s request, Lockheed Martin is already building some of the planes even though the flight test program is only 2 percent complete. That means costly modifications could be needed if problems are found.

      • “Block 3 will be flying in 2013, at the latest in 2015”. Which program schedule are we on now? How many of these predictions have fallen by the way side over the years?

      • Hi SM,

        I think Vince’s comment referring to F-35 ‘being ready’ by 2016+ is probably in reference more to a FMS based IOC date. Even with a smack in the middle SDD ‘maturity’ date of late 2014, a respective, initial FMS ‘block 3’ squadron’s IOC date would probably not be ‘ready’ until 2016 at the earliest.

        And in all fairness… this ‘worst case’ JET estimate could absolutely be revised further to the worse side, just as it could be to something more positive. So both possibilities are speculative in fact.

        Believe me, I hope this a/c program surprises all soon (especially Vince, lol) and becomes affordable as advertised, but the potential MYB policies being made soon in various capitals are having to be implemented on hard assessments, yet based on still significantly uncertain future factors. Indeed a truly tough decision for decision makers trying to balance all the typical justifications for such a large scale acquisition.

      • Spudman: “…JET was, and always has been, a “worst case” scenario.”

        And a very optimistic, ‘worst case’ scenario at that… as some have mentioned numerous times (whether for the F-22 program or F-35). So yes, this is can be confirmed: JET is optimistic. Now officially ‘estimate’ considerably more pessimistic cases than JET’s ‘worst case’ estimates and acquisition-process-decision-making can finally get down to realistic numbers, which forecasting and policy can actually be based around.

        C’mon, use your head folks. Keep it simple stupid.

  7. That makes for an interesting theory. However the F-35 has a long way to go before we know if it will be worth the effort. What is more interesting are the claims by F-35 program faithful that there will be thousand of F-35s produced with wild claims that go 10, 20, 30 years into the future. We have been here before. Years ago we were told there would be 750 F-22s, …and up to 1000 A-12s. Congress doesn’t know what it will spend on a big weapons program in 2 years let alone 20. What doesn’t help though is having an unhealthy program–all in a time of defense budgets that only promise billions thrown away on useless dirt missions that have no credible defensive value to the United States.

  8. Great i summoned SpudmanWP once again wiht his magic. I doubt you gonne make me F-35 believer tho.

    The block 3 i refering too is the orginal one not the latest one that LM is making up while the go along.
    It has way more capabilities, weapon clearance etc then the one you prolly have in mind. Most orginal
    capabilities wont be ready for the F-35 untill block 4 and higher. The current block 3 is a shadow of what
    it was orginally. Oh and the customers gonne have to pay extra for the blockupgrades to get what was
    orginally planned. Like it or not the capabilities we all wanne see on the F-35 prolly wont be operational
    for another 6 to 8 years if all goes well. And its not going well does it.

    What i wanne know is why any sane decision maker start ordering F-35 in numbers while testing is like
    in the really early stages. Not even 200 test hours from an also LM style cut current 5000 hour test program.
    Thats like asking for trouble. The chances yu get fail jets are like huge. With the current problems surrounding
    the development test phase why not buy instead cheap proven and ready alternatives till the F-35 is mature.

    For the record i hope the F-35 can complete its development and testing phase. I just dont see any point in
    buying now an unproven, way to expensive and not mature plane wihtout the capabilities it was once promised.
    Holland and where i live and other countries got plenty of cheap alternatives.

    SpudmanWP would yu be so kind to explain why any country including the USA should go ahead
    and buy not even 6 years close mature production planes. Why not buy alternatives till the F-35 maybe deliver on its

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  10. The US Gov wanted a concurrent Dev and production cycle to save money and, more importantly, time.

    Does anyone have a detailed list of the “original” Block 3 and capabilities? I have the weapon lists already, I just need what non-weapon items were on Blk3 and are now Blk 4&5.

    The only people ordering the F-35 in numbers (if you can call 30 “numbers”) is the US Gov for OT&E squadrons and for Eglin AFB ramp up. The 30 they ordered for FY2010 will not roll off the line till 2012. These will be training squadrons that do not need all the bells and whistles to begin with.
    As far as IOC, all the services have stuck to the 2013/2014 timetable claims (so far) and I am looking forward to Feb when the 2011 budgets and QDR details are released.

    And speaking of summoning….. Where’s my sacrificial virgin?😉

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