Home » Aviation » Lawmakers Quiz Military Aviation Leadership About F-35 Costs


Lawmakers Quiz Military Aviation Leadership About F-35 Costs

Aircrew members stand by as an F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 flies above the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) on March 5, 2018. US Navy Photo


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Military leaders spent two days on Capitol Hill outlining the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program to lawmakers skeptical about the jet’s costs.

“We understand that the F-35 program needs to reduce F-35 operations and supports costs by about one-third to meet service budget goals for affordability,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday.

Turner, the chair of the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land Forces, summarized the mood of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and from both chambers of Congress.

The current production price runs between $94 million and $120 million per jet, depending on the variant. Pentagon officials are in negotiations with primary contractor Lockheed Martin to sign the contract for the next batch of F-35 fighters.

“With price, I’m encouraged, but not satisfied with reductions,” said Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the Department of Defense director of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, during the Wednesday hearing.

The F-35’s builder, Lockheed Martin, also recognizes the current cost per jet is not sustainable. Lowering the F-35 cost per jet to $80 million by 2020 is driving Lockheed Martin’s production strategy for the next two years, said Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson, while speaking with reporters on Monday.

As the company increases production to near full capacity, Hewson said the cost per jet will drop because of savings achieved through economies of scale. In 2017, Lockheed Martin delivered 66 F-35 aircraft, and expects to deliver 90 F-35 aircraft in 2018.

“The F-35 it’s always a complex negotiation, it’s a very large program and it’s a very important program for our customers,” Hewson said. “Our goal is to work directly with our customer and provide the information they need and have the appropriate look at what the cost is for the aircraft, so we can get to closure with the negotiation.”

Both Hewson and Winter have said negotiations are continuing in good faith. After Wednesday’s hearing, Winter said he expected to announce an agreement next month and an award in May.

On Tuesday, members of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on seapower quizzed Navy and Marine Corps aviation leaders about the cost of building and maintaining the F-35.

“Why is the F-35 so expensive to keep flying?” asked Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).

A lot of the parts of that aircraft are very expensive. If there a component fails or parts need replacing, the Pentagon has to go to the manufacturer to create new parts. Funding for a components and parts replacement program was included in the pending FY2019 budget, said Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags, the Navy’s commander of Naval Air Systems Command.

In a few situations, a part could be covered by a warranty, but Grosklags said for the most part, the Pentagon’s ability to negotiate warranties is limited by congressional language dating back several years.

The cost of spare parts and components, though, is partly why the F-35 is expensive to fly. On Wednesday, when asked a similar question in the House hearing about maintenance costs, Winter explained the first batches of F-35 aircraft built are more expensive to keep in the air, in part, because they were built when capabilities were still being developed and now need updating.

Controlling maintenance costs has also been a challenge because of problems getting spare parts delivered in time, especially to forward locations. The Autonomic Logistics Information system, known as ALIS, was described by Pentagon officials as being hard to use and requiring the use of contractors for longer periods of time than originally expected.

“There are many things contractors do that our sailors can and should do,” said Rear Adm. Scott Conn, the Navy’s director of air warfare during Wednesday’s hearing.

Considering the first F-35B fighters deployed Monday, landing on the deck of amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) Monday, as part of the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit Western Pacific patrol. Sen. Roger Wicker, (R-Miss.), asked on Tuesday whether the program is worth the wait and cost.

“Looking back knowing what you know, was it a good idea?” Wicker asked.

“Yes sir, we need that capability. We absolutely need that capability,” Grosklags said. “We needed that capability ten years ago, we still need it today. But we needed it ten years ago. It’s disappointing it’s taken so long to get it to the fleet.”

As of now, the Navy is on track for the F-35C to be tested later this year and early in 2019, Grosklags said, with initial operational capability to be achieved before a planned Fiscal Year 2021 deployment.

  • D. Jones

    What is the cost of all the other programs which have been underfunded / unfunded due to the F-35 Hoovering up all resources? Why was the F-22 ended to support the F-35?

    How many members of congress have become massively enriched by Lockmart F-35 lobbying?

    How many retired O-6 and above received sweetheart retirement jobs with Lockmart for their “support” of the F-35 program?

    One could argue that the F-35 is equivalent to the 80’s Star Wars programs on Russia. We’re going broke trying to keep everything else going in the relentless push to make the F-35 work. Has any single program ever been so promoted at the detriment to everything else?

    • Rocco

      Your 1st paragraph no!!

    • Duane

      false

      • WhiskyTangoFoxtrot

        you looked like you’ve been triggered there Dueenee? You best retreat to you safe place before more facts and knowledge upset you completely.

        • Duane

          facts are what I deal in, not purposeless trolling.

          how bout you citing a fact?

          • Dean687

            Here’s a fact-you’re a paid LockMart spokes-mouth and everybody here knows it. That’s why you have zero credibility.

          • Mk-Ultra

            I don’t “know it” so why are you speaking for me? Just to exaggerate your claims about the other person to try to dismiss they know more than you?

            Reading his comments vs yours and I definitely would agree he just knows more than you. Definitely more “credibility” than you that’s for sure

          • BMC retired

            And you’re Dueene’s best “buddy” we see. But please leave out the details, we don’t want to be grossed out

          • Mk-Ultra

            I haven’t been on this website in like a year. Read a couple comments and found it hilariously how much you people cry, stalk, and are obsessed over another user.

            Notice how I wasn’t even talking to you yet you got yourself triggered because you’re one of those obsessed individuals.

            I’d ask why but leave out the details, we don’t want to he grossed out.

          • Retired

            It apparent to all of us “old timers” here on this forum, that you’re bringing all the “feelings,” “triggering,” and “tantrums” to this place all by yourself since you’re talking about it with every posting.

          • Mk-Ultra

            Another random that wasn’t even talking to, got herself triggered since she identified with the people im mocking.

            Ok using your own logic, you, BMC, cheap guy and etc all brought “feelings”, got “triggered” and throw “tantrums” since they literally talk about it in every one of their postings, on a daily basis, and way before I started mocking them for it.

            Good job. I’ll make sure to show them your comment and tell them you think they’re bringing all the emotions , getting triggered and throwing tantrums. Thanks.

  • Curtis Conway

    “Looking back knowing what you know, was it a good idea?” Wicker asked.

    “Yes sir, we need that capability. We absolutely need that capability,” Grosklags said. “We needed that capability ten years ago, we still need it today. But we needed it ten years ago. It’s disappointing it’s taken so long to get it to the fleet.”

    Lockheed Martin should wear some of this, and roll-back of earlier versions for conversion has not even begun (concurrency). Having all the three versions in a common baseline (for the most part), and beginning serial production will bring cost down. ALIS will mature, but it will require much ‘attention to detail’ in the feedback mechanism just like the Operational Readiness & Test System (ORTS) did in Aegis when it first came out. That has really paid off.

    • incredulous1

      We are far beyond LRIP in serial production and they are not achieving economies of scale expected when producing 10+ aircraft per month. Having parts sit on the shelf for over a year prior to stating assembly isn’t acceptable either. This is a management issue and probably good old fashioned payola again. Surely they wouldn’t whack Lockheed again like in the 80’s. They are too big to fail and the product too important and vital. I hate to say it but the customer needs to step in

      • Curtis Conway

        Boeing ‘is’, in their product, and everybody will say it’s because they signed the deal. There is truth there, but the real truth is they care about National Defense, and find it something worthy of investment. Lockheed Martin has a track record of ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water’ . . . unless its their stockholders.

      • Duane

        LM is NOT far behind production objectives for the current LRIP contracts. Where do you get that balderdash from?

        LM is right on, or a little ahead, of existing production targets.

    • RunningBear

      “Lockheed Martin should wear some of this, and roll-back of earlier versions for conversion has not even begun (concurrency).” The upgrades from concurrency are already in budgets and in process and some of those were essentially electronic board swaps and software upgrades (only).

      • Curtis Conway

        I think a breakdown of that list, and where it stands is in order.

        • Duane

          From day zero the F-35 program was programmed to be developed in a series of mostly software, along with limited hardware, upgrades on a development schedule that was rebaselined on both cost and schedule in 2012 – 6 years ago. The program has hummed along its rebaseline ever since, according to plan.

          Deficiencies of various kinds have inevitably popped up from time to time … in each case the F-35 haters went into orbit, made massive amounts of loud noise, and then each deficiency was inevitably resolved, with no fanfare and zero admission from the hater crowd that it was all a tempest in a teapot.

          It’s finally gotten to the point that the haters, except for a few dead-enders, have dissipated like a lynch mob deprived of a victim. The F-35 is a marvelous reality, and there is no more wishful talk of program cancellation. The last wind came out of the haters’ sails when Trump reversed himself last year, declaring the F-35 a great success, while patting himself on the back for negotiating lower LRIP10 prices that were negotiated months before his election.

          Like Shakespeare’s proverbial lines:

          “That struts and frets his hour upon the stage. And then is heard no more; it is but a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

          Who knew the bard could foretell 21st century BS so accurately!

          • Curtis Conway

            BRAVO!!! [applause] THOU DUST WAX ELOQUENT

            I’m not an F-35 hater. In fact I have been VERY Patient WAITING and WAITING and WAITING [about a decade] for the product development item to FINALLY come to fruition. The greatest advancement to air combat, other than the F-22, is the F-35 (any flavor) Combat System, the likes of which do not exist anywhere on the planet, save for Lightning customers. That will change, but it will take time. NOW, having said that, particularly the . . . WAITING part . . . the Combat System was written against a requirement, and yes that was incrementally upgraded (somewhat) as development time marched on. NOW . . . we sit like ‘Birds in the Wilderness’ . . . WAITING for the promised one/day – squeezed out like toothpaste – production rate. I guess we will just . . . WAIT . . . some more.

          • ABM1

            About 17 years and counting of WAITING. No worries Curtis, I’m sure LockMart will finally produce a F-35 with all the bells and whistles sometime before 2030-but not before they bleed the entire defense budget dry.

          • Duane

            The waiting ended years ago, in 2015 when the B model went IOC. The more numerous A model went IOC 2 years ago. Both havs been deployed to Eastern Europe and Japan/ROK for over a year now. Israel has been using their I models in combat over Syria for over a year now. Block 3F “full warfighting capability” was released half a year ago.

          • b2

            IOC in 2015- lol. you don’t know how to spell IOC… Some marine Gen says so and you jump!
            Its 2018 and it MAY just be reaching IOC with this cautious deployment to WESTPAC…
            Duane-Leroy-Rocco..what shills.

          • Dean687

            WOW, “full warfighting capability” after only 17 freaking years-that’s something to be real proud of. So what has lockmark been doing the first 15 years with our billions and billion of dollars besides making themselves fat?

          • Curtis Conway

            With that reply we really must be . . . “Bombs on Target” . . . SO . . . where’s the [Beef] list?

          • Dan O’Brian

            So what you’re telling us is that LockMart has engineered a constant “upgrade” stream that’ll ensure that all F-35’s will needed constant upgrading, which in turn translates to lots and lots of $$$$$ for your beloved precious. Well played LockMart!

          • Duane

            So you prefer instead a design that is not upgradeable without extensive multi million dollar hardware upgrades unstead of a simple software upload?

            Geesh!

          • WhiskyTangoFoxtrot

            We prefer to have an 100% operational product when it’s first rolls off the production line, not something that is purposely hampered 17 years later. You’re such a doofus Admiral-would you buy an automobile that is only 10% functional on the promise from the dealer that you can bring in it to the garage for a two week upgrade every year and you’ll ‘only’ get charged $2,000 for every software upgrade and after 17 you’ll get a fully functioning car? Now go back to your safeplace, suck on some lattes and ponder the silliness of your statements.

          • Mk-Ultra

            Very ironic you’re telling someone to go to their “safe place” while you’re throwing a tantrum because you read something that hurt your feelings. Otherwise why are you having a hissy fit?

            It is not “purposely hampered” just because you don’t understand the system. The Jets have already been deployed, years ago so it’s been reached “100% operational” and therefore throws your made up argument of “10% functional” and your dealership comparison (?).

            The point is all units, and the ones currently being built, have the capability of receiving software upgrades. Before the units being built would not receive any upgrades, and had to wait until afterwards costing more money if you just upgraded while its being built.

          • Sir Duene alot

            Feelings? you’re the only one discussing “feelings.” Perhaps you need to look in the mirror before you’re so quick to judge.

          • Mk-Ultra

            Your username makes your feelings quite clear that’s for sure.

          • BMC retired

            You sure have a lot of feelings there Ultra. Perhaps you’re projecting…

          • Mk-Ultra

            You sure have a lot of feelings there BMC. You’re definitely projecting. There’s no doubt about that.

          • MayingaStrain

            So I assume you are still waiting to purchase your first computer and mobile phone, because they all still require regular updating? Have you refused to purchase a new or used car car because it probably will require software or hardware updates.

          • Mali King

            Spot on!!!!

  • robert richard

    You used to carry 90 aircraft wings and now they’re 62 — the F-35 will decrease wings to 40 and the planes are smaller, largely made up of strike fighters that were designed to be replacements for shorter range, light attack aircraft of the past. Let’s discuss the F-35 vs the recently retired A-6…

    The F-35 will have a radius of around 400 nm.
    The A-6 had a unrefueled radius of 1000 nmi
    The F-35 stores capacity 3,000
    The A-6 Stores capacity 18,000 without resorting to external hardpoints and sacrificing stealth and range.

    So, these 40 aircraft air wings and their $15 billion dollar aircraft carriers, are becoming less “useful” or “necessary (?)” with each F-35 purchase.

    • Rocco

      So what’s your point!! The A-6 is about as stealthy as a barn!! Not to mention subsonic!! More expensive to operate FYI!! The only thing is with decreased air wings why do we need a huge 1100 ‘ 100k ton Carriers!!

      • b2

        Mr. Richard’s point is the F-35 has less capability than what it replaced.. Nothing new in 21st century procurement… Did I tell you we once put a man on the moon, for real?
        “Stealth” as the bedrock capability for this pig n’ a poke jet is simply a figure of speech and nothing more… Technology has changed quite a bit since the late 1990’s and “stealth” doesn’t mean what it once did with F-117’s over Bagdad in 1991….

        • Duane

          No it does not … the F-35 has vastly greater capability than any other attack fighter ever produced or flown, not even close.

          • Jonesy

            Ahh Fleet Admiral, we see that you are also here pushing LockMart’s other fraud besides the LCS. My oh my are you a busy little bee flying all over the place telling us again and again and again and again how great LockMart products? are. Because it you didn’t who would?

          • Mk-Ultra

            It’s funny seeing you people throwing tantrums over weapon systems you don’t quite understand.

            The F-35 is one of the most capable weapon systems in existence. Just because you don’t understand it you get triggered when people that know more than you explain this fact.

            Can you explain why it’s a “fraud” besides your emotions taking over?

          • Retired sailor

            Are you bucking for Fleet Admiral there Ultra? The job’s already taken by Duenee who dismisses everyone who dare raises the smallest critique by telling them “you don’t understand, you’re too old, your’re wrong, you’re emotional, Lockheed is the greatest-they can do no wrong” etc etc. But you’re doing a fine job of dismissing everyone yourself, maybe someday you’ll make Petty officer

          • Mk-Ultra

            Post what they actually say instead of posting how you read their comments after it hurts your feelings.

            Also don’t inject your obsession.

          • Dean687

            Ultra (whatever), apparently you haven’t been around long enough to experience the “full-Duenee,” and believe me, it’s ain’t pretty.

          • Mk-Ultra

            Dean, (whatever), and from what I’ve read in these articles, you’re all obsessed due to facts not aligning with your feelings and believe me, that’s literally what it is.

        • Rocco

          I don’t agree!

        • incredulous1

          Indeed “stealth” is a very relative thing, and I am beginning to wonder these days if all the internal weapons bay requirements are worth the trouble In other words external stores themselves [and their rails/mounts] could be design for shape and coated properly rather than simply being round and dumb.

          • Duane

            You obviously don’t understand “very low observable” design.

        • RunningBear

          Uh!, the F-35 is “More” capable than “All” of the aircraft it is replacing. Stealth is a manufacturing design/ technology, not a “Magical” paint from 1991.

          • Mali King

            Spot on!

      • incredulous1

        I think he was arguing for an update/upgrade and reintro of a new A-6 as a way to save money. But the airframes have been beaten to death over the decades and new builds would be needed. Or was this some kind of stopgap measure suggestion? Grumman would just re-engine them with new avionics. We have learned a great deal about aerodynamics and performance since the drumstick was designed back in the late 50’s

        • Rocco

          Wouldn’t even be worth it !! The Marines prowler’s are done this month!

          • incredulous1

            Grumman wouldn’t do it anyway. They would have to be tasked to redesign and would prefer a clean sheet of paper design with SOA CFD and stealth shaping. They would argue tooth and nail against mods, which would have to be new builds. To my knowledge no one has ever built an un-limited life carrier based plane. In fact short lives are why the F-35 seems so bad from the life cycle cost standpoint. And Lockheed certainly are not achieving economies of scale in procurement of parts and material.

    • Duane

      The A6 is in no way comparable to the F-35. It was a slow, subsonic aircraft substantially lighter than the F-35. Its combat RANGE (not radius) was just 878 nm (the two way combat radius is less than half that as the combat radius is the 2-way range plus a half hour on station loiter time).

      The total weaps loadout of the F-35 is 18,500 pounds with full internal fuel, not 3,000 pounds. The internal weaps bay, if solely utilized during VLO ops, also is not limited to 3,000 pounds either. The internal weaps bay is volume limited, with the A and C models able to carry 2, 14 ft long 2000-pound class munitions (like JDAM, JASSM, LRASM, et.) plus two AIM-120s at 350 pounds each, or various other munitions loadout combinations. Th B model has a shorter internal weaps bay limited to 2, 12 ft long 1000-pound class munitions.

      The effective combat radius (again, the two way range plus loiter time) of the A and C models on internal fuel is 630 nm, while the B model radius is 410 nm – even the shorter-legged B model is still significantly longer legged than any of the Hornet, Super Hornet, and Harrier.

  • b2

    Almost comical if it wasn’t so unfortunately tragic. Here are two “Navy admirals” associated with procurement (JSF PM and head of NAVAIR), both AEDOs…, arguing for the F-35B which has always a “Marine-Marine-Marine” requirement and has been so forever. (we MUST replace the widow maker AV-8B..) … Of course every time the USMC aviation runs into a technical/procurement snag or buffoonery with maint/ops it’s big NAVY’s fault via NAVAIR… I don’t expect any congressman or even McCain to quite grasp this folly…
    The Navy and Marines are “partners” or buddies under the Navy Department, right? Of course “buddy” is only 1/2 a word in that relationship….

    • RunningBear

      “The Marine Corps has been a component of the U.S. Department of the Navy since 30 June 1834,[12] working closely with naval forces.” NavAir buys “All” USMC aircraft.

      • b2

        Well the relationship has morphed over the years……Basically no accountability despite a lot of requirement demands for Marine unique and expensive weapon systems of doubtful utility/capability… like I said, buddy is only 1/2 a word when it comes to the relationship….

  • incredulous1

    It seems that the sacred cow syndrome is still alive and well and a culture shock is in order to fix this once and for all. Hewson and Winter both need to go bye bye and do something else with the rest of their lives. But I don’t think anyone at Lockheed and TACAIR is really going to listen or take heed of UnderScty Geurts

  • Leroy

    F-35 aside, we have too few fighter manufacturers. I don’t know how we resolve that, other than to continue F/A-18 production for Boeing, and perhaps give NG a nod on our 6th Gen fighter. Or have LM/Boeing produce 6th Gen for the AF, NG (especially the Grumman part) produce 6th Gen for the Navy. This is a matter of ensuring national security. We need more companies producing these vital machines. Past defense “peace-dividend” cutbacks killed them (merger or shut-down). BIG mistake!

  • Richard Saunders

    Do we need the capability or is it nice to have it? Could we have done with 80% of the capability for 20% of the cost? If the technology required for a program is 10 years out, we shouldn’t be buying it now. A 4-7 year horizon would be much better. They can have upgrades, you know!

    • Curtis Conway

      Airframe & engine vs. Combat System development is upside down today compared to the old days. Most of the budget went into airframe and engine, in which we installed some instruments and a radar. Today, the airframe is determined by task and specific task support. The Combat System is a ‘system of systems’ that performs all kinds of things and support the pilot in achieving the mission, and getting him/her back safely. From this day forward we will probably see a greater emphasis on autonomy of the airframe and systems without [local] direction/intervention.

      It has been a truism that a huge amount of budget is expended trying to get across the finish line in that last 10% of performance. In the F-35’s case, nothing like this has ever existed or been tried before [on planet earth], and it looks like Lockheed Martin did a pretty good job. The US Taxpayers paid for this development and an F-35 is GFE. However, the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), which the US Taxpayers also paid for, has been negotiated by the (now defunct) F-35 Program Office to be owned by Lockheed Martin, which should be illegal, and it looks like HUGE amounts of budget will be pumped into that hole, as time goes on, just to keep the birds flying around the planet. Do you see anything wrong with this equation?

      Now consider that all mission data (including Crypto) is loaded through ALIS. We haven’t even begun to address Nuclear Certification issues yet, and real problems, not addressed, already exist!

  • Leroy

    Better a plane that returns to fight another day than one that gets shot down and the pilot(s) paraded before the cameras or worse – one that gets tortured on YouTube! Congress has to ask; “How many 4th Gen fighters would it take to do the job of a single F-35?” Answer that truthfully, and then you’ll understand why this fighter is well worth the money. And btw – at $80M it will be cheaper than most of it’s less-sophisticated, less-capable 4th Generation “competitors”.

    Oh the Navy? Without stealth they can kiss peer-on-peer power-projection goodbye. Or maybe make it a lot more expensive because it will take 8 X F/A-18s and 2 X EA-18Gs to do what 4 X F-35Cs can do. And at that I’d expect a 4th Gen strike package will lose a plane or two (consider what just happened to Israel’s very capable Air Force). Not so F-35C! Especially potent with the legs offered after tanking with the upcoming MQ-25A. Can you say “force multiplication?” F-35B/C can!

    • b2

      Last word 😉
      Another hard work day for LM Ft Worth Business Development/PAO….eh?
      What you don’t grasp “Rocco” is that many of us who love our country and served want defense w/capability, not a worldwide jobs program… We criticize the JSF program because it deserves criticism…

      • Leroy

        It was a good day at the office FYI. As for Rocco, I am honored to be compared to (or confused with) him. He is a Great American!

    • Mali King

      Truth!

  • omegatalon

    The F-22 and F-35 have been expensive because they don’t use off-the-shelf components and it doesn’t help that the Pentagon continues to move the goal posts as to what the F-35 should be capable of and the Pentagon will face this problem with the GEN 6 aircraft given that there is no functional hypersonic engine ready for deployment.

    • Duane

      The F-35 was designed purposefully to have the goal posts moved continuously … upward, that is.

      • Dean687

        In Duene-speak “goal posts” mean “income stream” and “upward” means that Lockmart has a plan in place to demand constant ‘upgrades’ ‘software releases’ etc (aka Microsoft method) so that the F-35 will always be a golden goose that keeps on giving to their massive bottom line.

  • MayingaStrain

    Members of Congress and a plethora of other “experts,” relentlessly complained about the delays and expense of the F-22 program so loudly for so long, it was curtailed long before anything approaching the required number of aircraft could be produced. After all the usual developmental problems were finally resolved and it proved to be a dominant air superiority system, it was derided as overkill and too expensive for a post Cold War world. As a general rule, politicians want to use government money to buy as many votes as they can, so they usually adopt the notion that being “mostly” prepared to win the last war, should be good enough. Fortunately, decades of being at war has taught us that enemies adapt and any advantage will disappear without innovation.