Analyst: Why Trump was right on ‘out of control’ F-35 costs

by WorldTribune Staff, December 23, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump “can recognize when he is being scammed” and the Pentagon was doing just that by telling him the U.S. could get F-35s “for two to four times what they originally advertised,” security analyst Winslow T. Wheeler said on Dec. 22.

Trump had tweeted on Dec. 12 that the unit cost for the F-35 was “out of control.”

in 2017, a F-35A costs about twice what the Pentagon promised Congress more than two decades earlier. /Lockheed Martin photo
In 2017, an F-35A costs about twice what the Pentagon promised Congress more than two decades earlier. /Lockheed Martin photo

On Dec. 19, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, who heads up the Joint Strike Fighter project, said each one of the Air Force’s F-35A planes would cost $102.1 million, while both the U.S. Marine Corps’ F-35Bs and U.S. Navy’s F-35Cs would cost taxpayers $132 million each.

Those figures “are not the sticker price,” Wheeler said.

“Bogdan got these numbers from the funds Congress set aside in the 2015 defense budget for what the Pentagon called ‘Lot 9,’ just one of a number of planned F-35 purchases,” Wheeler wrote in an analysis for War is Boring. “In November 2016, the U.S. military was still negotiating the final deal with plane-maker Lockheed Martin.”

Wheeler added that “the unit costs Bogdan gave the media were incomplete. They involve only the Pentagon’s existing contracts with Lockheed and engine-maker Pratt & Whitney to build the airframes and jet motors. The numbers do not, for example, include the cost to buy maintenance equipment and other necessary support elements. They do not include money the Pentagon will spend to fix design errors discovered in testing now and in the future.”

For the 2015 fiscal year, Bogdan petitioned Congress for $6.4 billion to produce 34 F-35s for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, not including separate funds for research and development and other costs.

“We can calculate an F-35A has a price tag of $157 million, not $102 million. It’s $265 million for an F-35B and $355 million for a F-35C, not $132 million for either variant,” Wheeler noted. “On average, these F-35s cost $188 million apiece, not $122 million.”

A Congressional Research Service report from 1994 on the F-35 “tells us the Pentagon was promising F-35As for $31 million, F-35Bs for $31 to $38 million and F-35Cs for between $30 and 35 million,” Wheeler said. “In 2017 dollars, those costs would be $53 million per F-35A, $53 million to $65 million for each F-35B and $51 million to $60 million for a single F-35C.

“Put another way, in 2017, an F-35A costs about twice what the Pentagon promised Congress more than two decades earlier. Compared to this initial estimate, the F-35B costs more than twice as much now, while an F-35C is about four times more expensive.”

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