The high price the Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter and the future scarcity of less-expensive options could hamper exports of US military fighters in the coming years, says industry analyst Richard Aboulafia on 24 October.
With fewer exports, US industry and the economy could suffer along with US strategic relations, adds Aboulafia, vice president of consulting firm Teal Group, while speaking at an event held the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies in Washington, DC.
Aboulafia estimates F-35s will cost roughly $125 million each.
But “a buck and a quarter isn’t going to cut it” for many foreign countries, Aboulafia says.
“Something’s got to give. Otherwise, the US will run the risk of losing a considerable chunk of the world export fighter market,” he says. “This is not only important from an economic and industry standpoint, its also important from a strategic relations [standpoint].”
Lockheed Martin tells Flightglobal that the government’s F-35 joint program office recently signed contracts for additional F-35s, which will help reduce costs.
“With each successive production lot, unit costs have declined. That’s a trend we look forward to continuing as this program moves toward full rate production and operational maturity,” says Lockheed Martin.
“We are focused on delivering the F-35’s fifth generation capabilities to our armed forces and partner nations at a fourth generation price point,” the company adds.
Aboulafia says only seven countries purchase aircraft costing more than $65 million each, while 30 countries purchase aircraft costing between $35 million and $50 million each. That’s roughly the cost of Lockheed Martin’s F-16, he says.
But Aboulafia warns that those countries will have fewer option in the coming years, as production of the F-16 and Boeing’s FA-18 and F-15 cease.
In 2020, excluding Chinese and Russian models, there will be just five military combat aircraft in production: the F-35, Dassault’s Rafale, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s light combat aircraft, Korea Aerospace Industries’ TA-50 and Saab’s Gripen, he says.
That’s down from 14 military combat aircraft in production in 1990, according to Aboulafia.