The Pentagon’s ‘Block 4’ programme to upgrade the Lockheed Martin F-35 and incorporate new systems, including the ability to carry nuclear weapons, has contributed to the programme’s rising costs, with the $94.8 billion price hike turning the plane into the single largest article in last year’s four percent increase in defence spending, a new report on the Pentagon’s acquisitions has concluded.
“The overall Acquisition Cost (RDT&E [Research, Development, Test and Evaluation], Procurement, and MILCON [Military Construction]) of the program increased by $15.3B in base year 2012 dollars, and increased by $22.2B in then-year dollars. The Total Program Costs (RDT&E, Procurement, MILCON, and O&S [Operation and Support] increased by $25.0B in base year 2012 dollars and by $94.8B in then-year dollars,” the report noted.
In other words, according to Air Force Magazine, the total price tag of the F-35 programme grew by some $94.8 billion when adjusting for inflation.
R&D, construction and acquisition accounted from $22.2 billion of that, with the inclusion of Block 4 modifications, including revised airframe costs, higher subcontractor costs, exchange rates, costs associated with ‘maturation of the technical baseline’, and other costs, contributing to that.
Overall, the cost of a single F-35A rose by $2.1 million, by $2.8 million for the F-35B, and by $900,000 for the F-35C, with the models deployed by the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Navy, respectively.
The estimates are based on the planned 53-year lifespan for the aircraft, including everything from R&D to repairs, upgrades, operations and spare parts. The Pentagon has already estimated that the plane will have an overall lifetime cost of $1.5 trillion, a mind-boggling figure which makes the F-35 by far the most expensive military project in history.
Last week, in a letter to Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, Senator Chuck Grassley blasted the Pentagon over its perceived ineffectiveness in handling the F-35 programme. Citing the March and June reports by the Pentagon’s inspector general, Grassley accused the defence department of failing to keep track of the programme’s actual costs. The March report stated that the Pentagon did “not know the actual value” of the planes it was buying since it left accounting up to Lockheed Martin, and warned that the new F-35s for the Navy were nowhere near operational status, “not ready to face current or future threats,” and could put the lives of US military personnel at risk.