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Luftfahrt - The F-35 Is Cheap To Buy (But Not To Fly)

1.11.2019

With a new purchase order, the F-35 reaches its lowest cost yet.

f-35-usaf-2019

  • The latest purchase deal for the F-35 reduces the price 13 percent over three years.
  • The savings are the result of bulk buys and increased production efficiency.
  • Despite the cost savings, the F-35 still costs about twice as much to fly per hour than its non-stealthy equivalents.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s price tag is falling about 13 percent over the next three years, the result according to Lockheed Martin, of “smart acquisition strategies, strong government-industry partnership and a relentless focus on quality and cost reduction.” Despite falling purchase costs, the cost to actually fly the jet remains high, at double or more the cost of other fighters.

F-35 purchases are made in lots, with the U.S. government negotiating on behalf of the Pentagon and overseas partners with jet manufacturer Lockheed Martin. The agreement, announced today, covers Lots 12, 13, and 14, for purchases made in 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively. The aircraft are scheduled to be delivered in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

According to the agreement, the U.S. and its allies will buy 478 jets over three years, for a total cost of $34 billion. The -A model built for the U.S. Air Force and many international partners will cost $84.2 million in 2018, fall to $79.2 in 2019, and fall again $77.9 in 2020. The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin have long pushed for a target date of $80 million or less, and the company claims that’s happening one year earlier than previously projected.

F-35C Lightning II Flight Operations On USS Nimitz (CVN 68)
A F-35C takes off from the USS Nimitz.
U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST 3RD CLASS CHRISTOPHER R. JAHNKE

Meanwhile the -C model for the U.S. Navy will fall from $103.1 million to $94.4 million over the same time period. The -C model features a strengthened landing gear to allow it to conduct takeoffs and landings aboard aircraft carriers and a slightly longer range than the -A model.

The -B model used by the U.S. Marines, Italy, U.K., and Japan will also fall, from $108 million to $101.3. The F-35B, which incorporates thrust vectoring to conduct vertical takeoffs and landings is probably the most technically complex of the three versions.

The airplane’s unit cost savings are a positive development for the troubled jet program. One major criticism of the F-35 has been its cost; the first -A model jets in Lot 1 cost a staggering $223 million a copy, but the price has steadily come down over the years, with Lot 5 costing $107 million, Lot 10 $94.6 million, and now Lot 14 locked in at $77.9 million.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin Compete for Contract
The original X-35 prototype, 2001.
GETTY IMAGESGETTY IMAGES

While this is all good news, it should be remembered that back in 2001, Lockheed Martin stated the -A model would cost $50 million a copy—or $71.77 million in 2019 dollars. The price could fall even further once the F-35 has completed mandatory operational testing and evaluation, which will greenlight full rate production and allow the Pentagon and allies to buy larger lots of planes.

Although the cost to buy has come down, the cost to fly remains high. The F-35 costs $44,000 an hour to fly, or $44 million to fly for 1,000 hours, or $352 million over the 8,000 hour lifespan of the jet. That’s more than twice as much as other jets such as the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and F/A-18 Super Hornet. Lockheed Martin wants to get the cost per hour to $25,000 by 2025, but the Pentagon believes that number may be unattainable. The Air Force has warned in the past that if the cost per flight hour doesn’t go down, it could end up buying fewer F-35s.

Another cost the F-35 program will have to deal with at some point is the cost of bringing older jets up to the latest standard. Under a manufacturing concept known as concurrency, F-35 production began before the jet’s hardware and software was completed. This was done to get jets into the field faster, so pilots could train on them earlier. The problem is that there are now scores, if not hundreds of jets around the world that need updating to the final standard, a complicated and expensive process.

The F-35 program continues to make progress on costs, but the progress is uneven and in some cases may be unattainable. The difficulty of managing such an enormous, complicated, slow-moving program has prompted the Air Force to push for producing new fighters every five years, in order to field new technology faster and create more purchasing options.

Quelle: PM

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