CHART: F-35B/C operating costs versus Hornets, Harriers



A Pentagon briefing dated 4 January shows a larger number F-35B/Cs in 2029 will cost more to operate over dramatically fewer flying hours than today’s fleet of AV-8Bs and F/A-18C/Ds.

The presentation is authored by David E. Burgess, director of the cost department for the Naval Air Systems Command.

The chart shows predictions that the F-35B/C fleet will cost more to operate from Fiscal 2020 to FY2045 than the aircraft they replace. The data could be significant as the F-35 program has been justified primarily as a cost-saving effort, with three variants sharing a common design.

I’ll be reporting more about this briefing tomorrow, so stay tuned.

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22 Responses to CHART: F-35B/C operating costs versus Hornets, Harriers

  1. SMSgt Mac 13 January, 2010 at 2:51 am #

    Hope you have more data in hand as to the different dollar-years involved.

    As presented, it looks like FY2008 $/flying hours are compared to dollars in the 2020s. 40% higher would be the same as less than 2% annual inflation over 20 years.

    BTW: fewer planes SHOULD mean fewer flying hours.

  2. Stephen Trimble 13 January, 2010 at 3:00 am #

    I’m reading on the chart that the dollars are presented in constant CY2009 dollars. So the effect of inflation you describe should not be a factor.

  3. SMSgt Mac 13 January, 2010 at 3:01 am #

    OK, blowing up the teeny-weeny slide…. I see that TOC ‘claimed’ includes adjustment for inflation and indirect cost increases, This leaves direct cost increases unrelated to inflation. What is the cost of fuel estimate in the far future?
    The real question is how does this compare to the TOC of keeping the F-18 alive and effective through 2029?

    Apples and apples are needed. This slide is apples and oranges.

  4. Stephen Trimble 13 January, 2010 at 3:38 am #

    Fair point about lack of comparison with F-18 life extension cost.

  5. Solomon 13 January, 2010 at 3:41 am #

    Where is the rest of it? This is a pretty big statement from a cost director. Has he compared the costs of doing SLEPs to AV-8′s and F-18′s? How about the costs savings from necking down the fleet? I don’t know what it is but something seems “off” about this whole thing.

  6. aeroxavier 13 January, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    yeah yeah big problem for the future. the USAF was going to reduce one great number of their plane if they will stand with this budget.
    about the dollar it is one great question because all country (exept USA) was speacking for take another money (probably €) for international change.that can be one advantage for USA or not but after for export market that was different.
    for what they don’t make the f-35 not so “high tech” and lose some stuff?

  7. Prometheus 13 January, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    Big surprise there. Anyways, there is no alternativ to the JSF or is there?

    No really. I hope we remember that and see what 2029 really brings.

  8. Prometheus 13 January, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    Real question:

    Can the “B” use the liftfan without using the “Undercarriage”(is that the correct english word?) too?

  9. Royce 13 January, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    I think the comparison is to current operating costs for legacy aircraft, not what the support costs would be if the Navy sticks with legacy aircraft through life extension programs instead of buying new F-35s.

    Cost per flight hour is unexpectedly high because a major goal of modern aircraft programs is typically to reduce the cost of operating the aircraft over legacy fleets. It’s not necessarily a bad thing if the aircraft provides increased capability, or fewer flight hours need to be flown to provide the same level of capability. The problem for the F-35 program is that it’s being sold as the “affordable” route to stealth. If the operating costs are high, then customers will buy fewer aircraft.

  10. EG 13 January, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    Raises more questions than answers. I wonder if indeed, Mr. Trimble is correct and a F-111B coup is about to take place.

  11. Stephen Trimble 13 January, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    I’m lost. Have I predicted an F-111B coup? And what is that exactly?

  12. EG 13 January, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    No more than I am. I believe I am confusing this with a reply to Mr. Sweetman on Ares. MY BAD.

  13. Stephen Trimble 13 January, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    No worries! Just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.

  14. John S 13 January, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    F/A-18C/D and AV-8B Service Life Extension costs would be offset by F-35B/C acquisition costs, and neither would affect this chart’s operation costs.

    The bigger picture is the F/A-18C/D is being phased out, and will not be viable airframes in 2059 as this chart shows, so it is not a choice of “do we buy the F-35C or do we retain the F/A-18C?”

    I think the point of this slide is to show that future operating costs will have to be better accounted for in subsequent quadrennial reviews.

    The “F-111B coup” was of course the Navy rejecting the F-111B and developing the F-14 instead. There is no funds available for the Navy to develop a replacement for the F-35C, so the only “coup” would be to use F-35C acquisition money to keep buying F/A-18E/F/Gs.

  15. EG 13 January, 2010 at 6:27 pm #

    If the costs escalate to the point of fewer airframes, the navy loses an argument to maintain a set number of decks. I would not be amazed at all if the navy bails from part of the program to buy more F-18E/F simply to bolster the requirement to maintain the numbers of carriers. Of course the marines will get some V/STOL’s but not in the numbers they want. The navy will accept a loss of amphibious decks to maintain the numbers of CVs.

  16. aeroxavier 13 January, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    normally the navy was going to lose 2 carriers in the next 5 years and probably 2 more between 2020-2030
    but now if f-35 probs continue they can reduce the size of their future carrier and continue with f-18 and others

  17. glider 13 January, 2010 at 8:16 pm #

    RN and RAF are considering to axe their order to 70 a/c and probably to keep only one of the foreseen new carriers.
    italy will surely follow as soon as FACO is secured as their actual numbers are simply unrealistic esp for the B version.

    just to name a few.

    is this going to worsen the above figures?

  18. SMSgt Mac 13 January, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    Any effort to SLEP the F-18 will have O&S costs above and beyond the cost of SLEPing itself. New suppliers, parts and services means newer and more expensive support.
    This slide is horrible as a standalone and I suspect it would make a lot more sense in a context, but I also hate the way it:
    1. Talks about future O&S extracted from the TOC. TOC is what ‘matters’ and TOC is what is managed.
    2. Adds the $/FH detail without more info
    3. Does not tell me if the dollars shown reflect the $ benefits Marines get from going all STOVL including simplified training requirements, common and perhaps less total support infrastructure and equipment among other things.

  19. Dave 13 January, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    I wonder if those cost reflect the B more than the C model… obviously they’re blended, but I would think the B would cost more especially with having a retrofit the deck cooling etc… (making the assumption that the heat problems on the deck with the V-22s will effect JSF too).

    However, I doubt the Navy will have the option to cut/kill the F-35C- it’s likely the DOD would refuse to let them to keep the rest of the program stable unit cost wise (I also read the DOD Buzz story). The OSD has been a vocal supporter of the JSF project- they’re likely to defend it at all costs. If Congress proposes the cuts it would likely result in a Presidential veto as was threatened this year over the F-136… that being said, I don’t doubt the Navy is making an end run to try bolster Super Hornet procurement numbers potentially at the expense of the F-35C.

    It might be interesting to see what a sixth generation Navy fighter might look like if the naval JSF bites the dust, though I personally doubt it’ll happen… everything going forward will be joint I’m sure. Maybe that F/A-XX concept you dug up might make a showing?

  20. alloycowboy 14 January, 2010 at 1:25 am #

    This is like comparing apples and oranges, because you are going to have to do seriously costly upgrades and modifications to the F-18′s and AV-8′s so they don’t get blown out of the sky. Which is the sort of the whole point of the F-35 with it’s large interior volume to handle all the avonics boxes necessary to fight in high tech modern battles. To use an annology this comparison is a lot like comparing Sopwith Camels to Supermarine Spitfires and it is no great the suprise that the Spitfires are going to cost more to operate. But ask yourself which fighter would rather fight the Battle of Brittian in?

  21. Obamanite 14 January, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    Wrote this on another blog, but I’ll share here:

    It is remarkable that there are some significant doubts creeping in and being expressed in Congress about the rationale behind fielding the F-35C and, by extension, the B as well. If the C model goes, then to what extend will the Navy continue to step up for the B? If increasing its shipbuilding budget is contingent on keeping its aviation budget down, and, more importantly, keeping its carrier fleet at 10 or 11 decks, then I’ve no doubt the Navy would sacrifice not only the C but the B model F-35 as well. I think the Navy may be looking at the V-22 debacle and saying, we’re not about to make the same gold-plated mistake again for the sake of satisfying the same inane, illogical ideological fixation with vertical lift. And, if the B and C models go the way of the F-111B, will the A model even survive? And if it survives, will the USAF get only 180 of them at some $400 million a piece? Will the F-35 become the most expensive stealth aircraft since the B-2? Will the F-22, as a result, be brought back from the dead? And does the Navy now look awfully smart for hedging their bets not only with the F/A-18E/F, but with N-UCAS as well? Things are beginning to look extremely dire for the F-35 indeed…

  22. LEG 5 March, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    When the USN pulled out of the F-111B (which was a superior jet to the F-14A for the job it was mooted to fulfill) it crashed the USAF tactical deep interdiction game.
    When the USAF (who knew all the numbers from their own stealth techbase development) stepped out on the ATA (A-12), that was the straw that brought Cheney’s Camel back before Congress to admit that all he had was some bolts, frames and a mockup, after 5 bilion dollars had been wasted creating a factory line before a flying airframe.
    The USN pulling out of NATF to go with the AFX (as F/A-18E/F) killed the Raptor’s cost factoring ‘jointness’ on an aiframe that, at best, would have had 10-20% component commonality with a CV equivalent.
    The Marines and USN released their Tac Air Modernization 2001 initial planning brief in _WINTER 2000_. And along with essentially admitting to a corporate merger on airpower (unsustainable with the STOVL B) their total numbers showed something like 170 + 240 jets. Because they knew the numbers and saw the writing on the wall, even back then.
    With such a throwaway attitude on the part of the services for which Naval Stealth was deemed ‘so essential’ that we would essentially recreate the debacle of the A-12 all over again is where the real criminality lies.
    And it is a felony forfeiture of fiduciary responsibilities people.
    Whether this is a massive effort to sabotage each other’s independent operational capabilities; tit for tat program economics reciprocity; or just plain stagger-drunk (pinball effect) lurching from one failed program to the next in search of inventory fill at the latest SOA generational level; the reality remains that where _true jointness_ is a function of operational requirements.

    How often does Europe plan on fighting without U.S. that they need their own stealth? How much does having them along justify giving up technology leverage through proliferation?

    True quality over quantities emphasis will always favor a much smaller, tightly controlled, dominant technical force structure which leverages the sum of the legacy force ‘a few days of theater flow-in later’ with early raids.
    You spread JSF technology out and you spread RFLO and Networking security out. And then you lose the capability leverage altogether.
    To the point where it is compromised before it even enters service.
    Michael O’Hanlon was giving us a variation on this ‘You only really need 500 JSFs, total…’ theme back in September 1999.
    Anyone who believes that the JSF is not a poster child for unnecessary manned airpower modality at extreme (RICO) levels of anti-deficiency and Nunn-McCurdy act violation is a fool.
    When someone says ’32-35-38′ in 1994 and in 2001 (at SDD contract award, less than two months after 9/11) the SecAF is mumbling ’48-50′, you _should stop the program dead_ and force the defsec to justify it on a 31% ceiling excession basis.
    Just like the law says.
    Now, another decade later there is _no_ technical (Union, yes. Technical, no) justification for the JSF, in any of it’s one-name, three planes, flavors.
    The competing S2A technology base for DEWS, EML and Hunting Weapons is progressing waaaaay too fast for any 127 million dollar airframe to be justifiable on the basis of putting a manned target drone in the way of a 3-second or less snap engagement (optical = non-LO) threatcapability from which there is _no reprieve_.
    The way of the future, assuming we can make the networking secure is COE (contempt of engagement) theory with leveraged tiers of not-to-exceed value exposure. A manned 100 million dollar DCA jet 100-200nm behind a 50 million dollar UCAV launches a .5 million dollar missile which flies another 100nm+ ahead to the actual contested engagement zone.
    That _missile_ (if it’s an AAM) has a microturbine ala MALI which can take it from 200 knots and 30 minutes of loiter to 800 knots and 5 minutes of cruise plus a blip motor which can, like a FFAR, can sprint the weapon higher up to M=3 or more.
    And when that miss-ile, with an advanced EO seeker (and a datalink to a bunch of packmates) sees the 70 million Pak-FA leave the runway in full burner at 30km out, it goes from loiter to kill mode against it.
    If it doesn’t make the intercept, it forces the break and the next missile comes up in trail. And the next and the next. Until the manned platform is out of airspeed, altitude, expendables and ideas. And dies like a spitted pig.
    That is the future of airpower in 2050 and beyond. The Pak-FA totally dominates the F-35. But is in turn totally dominated by a _lesser performing_ platform which fires cheaper, intelligent re-attack,
    hittiles.
    Unless Netcentrics falls to cyberwarfare.
    In which case, you had better revert to a TAV force that can hostage industrial/economic targets with rods from god from across the local timezone and beyond all ‘tactical’ defensive systems reach.
    Because our national debt will be so huge we _will not_ be able to support the combined enabler force (Jammers, SEAD, Escort, tanking) nor the CSG to launch them. But we might be able to buy a couple 500 million dollar TAVs. And that would be all it would take.
    Either way, an F-117 repeat with F-16 like EM performance and CV/STOVL ‘options’ ruining the cost:benefits technical leveraging is such ancient history -as an operational concept- that it’s more religious dogma than operational doctrine.
    They will be selling snowcones in hell before I wave to The Pope Of The Air Force.

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