This is the full F-35 selected acquisition report for 2012. The overall price of the tri-service program has dropped a touch–about $4.5 billion overall from $395.7 billion to $391.2 billion. Unit cost for the aircraft has also dropped somewhat with the Program Acquisition Unit Cost (PAUC) falling to $108 million from $112 million while the Average Procurement Unit Cost (APUC) slips from $91.8 million to $88 million. The average Unit Recurring Flyaway (URF) which assumes “the quantity benefits of 61 Foreign Military Sales aircraft and 660 International Partner aircraft” is $65.9 million for the F-35A, $77.4 million for the F-35B and $77.9 million for the F-35C.
Anyways, good news for the F-35 program overall, but there as the report notes–software is still the biggest challenge for the JSF.
Still no word on the jet’s initial operational capability date with the USAF or USN. But during his last press conference, outgoing Secretary of the Air Force Mike Donley said the USAF will notify the Congress next week when the F-35 will become operational with the service.
“We will make an IOC notification to Congress next week. We owe them a report by June 1st. That’s on track,” Donley said. “It’s been coordinated between the Air Force and the Navy, both the Department of the Navy and the Marine Corps. So we’re working on that, and a report will go to Congress next week.”
“I think we’ve normalized to a couple of numbers now, about $25,000 per flying hour for the F-16 C/D model and about $32,000 roughly for the F-35,” he says. “That number may continue to adjust itself slightly, as we decide what factors are in or not, but that gives us an idea now.”
The cost numbers have come down from the original estimates, Welsh says. And as the service gains more experience operating the jet, it will gain a better understanding of the F-35′s long-term operating costs.
Welsh cautions however that the aircraft is not yet flying operationally representative sorties. “We’re not flying in a fully operational mode yet. It’s still in test,” he says. “We’re just starting our training programs. So that data has to mature. Just like every airplane program that has a projected cost for support and sustainment, we don’t really know until we support and sustain it for a while.”
Furthermore, there is still some maintenance equipment that need to complete development–such the F-35′s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS). “Some of the equipment that will help with that process is still being developed, and once we get more fidelity on that over the next couple of years, I think we’ll have a much better feel for what the airplane’s going to cost,” Welsh says.