The Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons program ever devised. Costing well over a trillion dollars, the F-35 was supposed to replace the frontline fighters for the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Air Force. But costly delays and setbacks have potentially pushed the Air Force to look for a cheaper option to help fill in the gaps left by the expensive F-35A.
Correction (March 19, 2021): At 5:30 the video misstates the cost of the program at $1.6 trillion to-date. The correct number is $1.6 trillion over the lifetime of the program.
The F-35A was designed to revolutionize fighter procurement. It was going to take the missions of several aircraft and do it all. The maintenance was going to be cheaper and easier due to cutting edge computer software. The list of planes it was going to replace was long. But the operating costs for the aircraft, which is around $36,000 per hour, are still around $10,000 more expensive than older fighters in the Air Force inventory.
“The biggest cost challenge that we face in the airplane is the life cycle sustainment cost of the jet. What I can tell you…is the Air Force is laser focused on that.” Said Brigadier General Abba, who is the Director of the F-35 integration office for the U.S. Air Force. “When we are talking about the cost per flying hour of an F-35, it includes all of those sorts of capabilities that in other airplanes, F-16, F-15, that are not organic to the platform itself. They’re things that hang either on centerline stations or on wing stations to help the airplane accomplish its mission.”
Although the F-35 is an incredibly capable aircraft, the Air Force appears to have decided to diversify its fleet. The F-15EX, an upgraded version of the F-15 that first flew in the 1970s is on the acquisition block, and the initial F-15EX was delivered to the Air Force this month. And recent comments by the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Charles Brown Jr., illustrated the possibility of procuring a light fighter to be a replacement for the aging F-16.
“The idea that, you know, because there are some affordability challenges that the USA is somehow going to just bail on this program is mad.” Said Justin Bronk, a Airpower and Technology Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “Of course, they have to consider the future flights it makes because the sums don’t add up and they haven’t had it up for a long time. And good on General Brown for grasping the mettle on that publicly.”
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The Future Of The F-35 And The U.S. Air Force Fighter Fleet