By David Crane
defrev (at) gmail (dot) com
March 15, 2010
Human Events is reporting that the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) fighter/attack aircraft’s per-unit cost has skyrocketed to $112 million, and The New York Times is reporting that the F-35 JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) fighter/attack aircraft has ballooned in cost from 60-90 percent in real terms since 2001, “blowing well past a level requiring the program to be revamped, Pentagon officials said Thursday.” This cost jump brings the per-unit cost to $80 million to $90 million. Regardless of who’s numbers you believe, this is alarming news, particularly considering the recent cancellation of the F-22 Raptor program over its supposed high cost. Not that the F-22 isn’t a costly aircraft. It is. However, before its cancellation, Lockeed Martin had finally gotten the Raptor’s per-unit cost down to the $143 million to $147 million range, and the production line was well under way. However, since they cancelled the F-22 program, the per-unit aircraft cost is, instead, around $350 million, due to the very low number built (187 aircraft).
The fact is, the F-22 Raptor is a MUCH more capable fighter/attack aircraft on just about every level, save for its lack of a helmet-mounted sighting/targeting system, which can, and will, be remedied. Frankly, there’s no excuse for the Raptor not having a Boeing Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS)-type or VSI F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS)-type helmet sight/targeting system, but at least that’s something that can be fixed. By contrast, there’s no way the F-35 can ever be made as capable as the F-22 or upcoming Russian PAK FA Sukhoi T-50 Raptorsky 5th-Gen fighter aircraft. It’s simply not possible.
The only version of the F-35 JSF that offers a capability beyond the F-22’s design is the F-35B STOVL (Short Takeoff/Vertical Landing) variant, which is intended to replace the Boeing AV-8B Harrier II Plus “Jump Jet”, which is much more difficult and dangerous than the F-35B for pilots to fly. The F-35B STOVL variant is an interesting aircraft, and can potentially provide us with a significantly-expanded naval deployment capability, since it requires a very short takeoff distance, even when fully armed.
Instead of producing the F-35C, Defense Review believes it might be smarter to produce a navalized version of the F-22 (including a two-seat model), and just scrap the F-35A and F-35C. The F-35A’s and F-35C’s respective costs are now just too close to the per-unit cost of the F-22 to justify themselves.
By the way, Human Events and The New York Times aren’t the only ones reporting on the F-35 program’s skyrocketing costs. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Washington Post, and Reuters are also reporting on it.