USAF disputes F-35 Higher Cost Projections

USAF Air Combat Command chief Gen. William Fraser says he does not agree with the Navy’s projections that the F-35 will cost more to maintain than previously expected.

Officials at Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) have predicted a higher cost for operating the system over 65 years than has the Joint Strike Fighter’s joint program office (JPO).

The Navair study recently stated that 65 years of sustainment for the single-engine stealthy fighter could cost about $442 billion (Fiscal 2002 dollars) more than planned.

The Air Force is expected to operate the preponderance of the U.S. fleet; it is planning to buy 1,763 of the conventional-takeoff-and-landing aircraft. Fraser says he is holding firm on the 1,763 requirement; recently the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, said he expected to buy “more than 1,500” of the fighters. This was seen by some as him backing off of the long-standing 1,763 requirement.

Fraser says he has not been asked to produce any contingency plans should the number shrink. This would most likely happen due to affordability problems. If the Pentagon’s predictions are true and the per-unit cost goes up about 57%, buying a full complement of F-35s could be untenable in the current fiscal environment.

Fraser also says he is optimistic about recent progress in the F-35 development program, which has fallen under greater scrutiny due to a low-sortie production rate and delayed deliveries of test aircraft by prime contractor Lockheed Martin.



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